The forum was the Social Innovation Collaboratory’s third Our Story event, where, in addition to letting people in on their own lives, students aimed to confront biases and build community in a safe environment.
“This is a chance for students to share uninterrupted stories, share authentically, and share truthful stories from their life,” said Julia Gagliardi, a storytelling mentor and one of the founding members of Our Story at Fordham.
Before the student storytellers spoke, the audience was urged to leave their expectations at the door, suspend judgment, and, most importantly, observe deep confidentiality. The evening event was designed to provide a safe space, with story “details lingering only in our hearts and minds—not be shared after the event,” explained Carey Weiss, director of sustainability initiatives and social innovation.
The theme of the evening was “Caught off Guard.” Students told stories about when they had felt surprised, uncertain, terrified, and/or transformed. The storytellers candidly reflected on their personal struggles, past relationships, and the lessons they learned.
One of them mentioned that last summer, she watched the Pixar movie Inside Out five times. It taught her something special:
“It’s okay to be sad. These feelings—the hard feelings that no one wants to confront, of sadness, fear, anger, disgust—no one talks about those, but those are very, very real parts of life that you need to make you who you are,” said Shelby Daniel, FCRH ’20, a journalism major.
At the end of the night, students were asked to reflect on what they had just heard, summarize their feelings in one or two words on a Post-it, and stick the notes on a wall in the back of the room. By 8 p.m., more than 100 colorful squares covered the wall. Students had scribbled dozens of words: uplifting, touched, humbling, self-aware, affirmed, emotionally spent. One person wrote the word “catharsis,” surrounded by a heart. “Everyone has the strength, even if they don’t say it,” said another.
“Them making themselves vulnerable in front of so many people, and sharing those personal parts about themselves—things you would never really know about them from a normal conversation or a normal pass by—definitely hits a nerve,” said Max Lynch, GABELLI ’19, who has worked with the Social Innovation Collaboratory since his first year at Fordham.
Abby Monaco, FCRH ’21, said she teared up throughout the evening.
“In some form, in some way, all of the speakers connected to each of us,” said Monaco. “Every one of their stories—I felt something similar had occurred in my life, or something I knew happened in somebody else’s.”
This spring semester, the Social Innovation Collaboratory plans on hosting another storytelling session.
“Storytelling is a critical piece of changemaking,” concluded Rosemary McCormack, a storytelling mentor and founding member of the Our Story team, in her closing speech. “It’s not just something that we should do once a semester. Stories can create much larger impact on our society as a whole.”