Students share stories through ‘Living Library’


Sean Su/The Daily Northwestern

Students gathered at Norris University Center on Thursday for a “Living Library,” an event put on to promote the sharing of different perspectives from people of diverse backgrounds on campus.

Jordan Harrison, Assistant Campus Editor

Participants at the “Living Library” checked out stories Thursday at Norris University Center, but told by people instead of books.

The event, sponsored by the Fiedler Hillel Center, Interfaith Advocates, Sustained Dialogue, Muslim-cultural Students Association and Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators, was organized in an effort to bring new people together and explore diversity at Northwestern. “Readers” at the event had five to 10 minute conversations with other students with a variety of personal stories.

The Living Library had about 20 students who volunteered as “books.” Some of the titles available were “Multicultural Greek,” “A Writer of Color” and “Student Athlete,” all correlating with students’ stories.

Weinberg sophomore Ryan Kenney, the lead organizer of the event, said he got the idea from a “Living Library” he encountered at the Global Engagement Summit in Turkey last spring. He said he piloted the event in March at NU to a smaller group, but this was the first time the University held one open to the general community.

“What we’re just trying to do is create a comfortable, safe platform for people to engage in a dialogue with someone that they normally wouldn’t have a chance to talk to about an aspect of someone’s identity that they care a lot about,” he said.

Refreshments were provided for readers who checked out one book from the Living Library, and readers who checked out three books received a free T-shirt.

Weinberg junior Jon Cohen talked to Pleshette Strong about her story, “Complimentary Contradictions.” Strong, a Communication junior, shared her narrative about growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Cohen said the pair found a lot in common to talk about and the event gave him ideas for a similar program he is planning for People of NU, a group based on the Humans of New York website, which shares stories from students across the campus. 

“Genuinely, I think it’s great to explore different people’s narratives,” he said. “A lot of times we get caught up in the bubble of our friend groups and the activities we’re involved in.”

After finding out about the Living Library through Interfaith Advocates and other student groups, Weinberg sophomore Thelma Godslaw signed up to be a “book.” She shared her story about running the Los Angeles marathon in high school and being a low-income Nigerian-American student.

“The ability to share your story with someone and have them listen is very powerful in itself,” she said. “It makes other people aware of your perspective, and I love the entire idea surrounding this.”

She said she wanted to tell a positive story from her past and decided to talk about her marathon run in the spur of the moment.

“I was recently thinking about the best memories I had during high school, and this was one of them,” she said. “I thought of how I could infuse my different identities within this story.”

Weinberg freshman Emmanuel Darko shared his story about being an international student from Ghana but having an American passport. He said most people he talked to engaged with his story.

“People have been really cool to talk to, and they seem really engaged,” he said. “I think the people here to talk are generally interested in getting to know somebody new.”

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