Your Story Can Tell: An Oral Tradition to Promote Pluralism in Your Community
By Ryan Gildersleeve,
Hall Director, Iowa State University
life has a unique opportunity on any campuss quest for multiculturalism
and understanding human differences. For many, it might be considered
a responsibility. The residence hall communities can serve as breeding
grounds to foster multicultural exploration. Imagine if everyone on any
given residence hall floor could really hear and understand what makes
each other unique as well as similar. Imagine the potential for students
to engage in the learning process with the folks living right next door
or down the hall from them. Imagination can become reality using a simple
tool that everyone has: language.
assistants (RAs), you are in a privileged position to facilitate the imagining
of this reality. You get to experience the storytelling your residents
informally engage in everyday. The challenge set before you asks how can
you promote pluralism in your programming and community development. A
natural connection exists between these stories and this challenge.
Oral Tradition of Community Development
your residents share when trying to get to know each other at the beginning
of the year, or when a new person moves onto the floor, or the stories
that are shared later in the year can be identified as current and modern
extensions of the aged old method of chronicling history: the oral tradition.
The oral tradition has served the residence hall community informally
since the time that residence halls began. One of the best methods for
RAs to get to know their residents has always been conversation. Initiating
conversations to learn more about each other provides millions of RAs
with countless opportunities to connect residents to resources. It is
something that you already do, and you do it quite well!
Pluralistic Programming Approach
If you are
looking for ways to promote pluralistic values in your residence hall
communities, stop looking! Seeing is not always believing and our
eyes will deceive us. You need to start listening. And really hear
what your residents contribute to your community.
the stories your residents have to share, as well as the stories your
fellow student staff members relate to you during orientation and on-the-job
training, you develop a wealth of information eager to be dissected with
the insights of brilliant young minds, like the minds of you and your
residents. Bringing these stories together in a formal setting such as
a program on the floor or a presentation in the campus drama lab can help
other residents relate to the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their
peers. It can also challenge folks to examine when, where and how they
have contributed to those trials, tribulations and triumphs.
can look like an intimate gathering in the lounge where an open-mike
set-up takes place, or it can be more structured, like a performance in
front of an audience of peers with lights, costumes and set furniture.
The key is finding the right venue for the stories that your community
needs to tell and hear.
personal stories in a public forum intimidates some people. The support
provided by the organizers and facilitators of these programs determines
how comfortable individuals feel expressing themselves, which is why participants
must understand what to expect before any presentation. This can often
be accomplished in workshops where each presenter works through their
story with a cohort of presenters. During this time, students can learn
what it is about their story that really makes an impact on others. Workshops
also give the chance to figure out how much to share and what to emphasize
in the story. The camaraderie that develops between individuals who are
brave enough to participate in these programs can grow strong, and if
that happens with residents of your own community, then you can witness
a groups leadership development happening first-hand.
that it takes bravery to share a personal story testifies to the sensitivity
needed in pluralistic programming. Anytime multiple voices are share diverse
perspectives, controversy has the potential to erupt. This should not
frighten anyone from participating. In fact, it should entice people.
Only when someone challenges an idea does it become worthy of exploring
and defending. Stacy Ann Chin, a famous slam poetry artist once said,
When someone else makes me question one of my own tenants, that
is where the conversation begins.
to prepare students for what can be an intense experience, it is important
to emphasize that this activity is not an acting exercise. Acting is something
that very few people can do well, but many people try. Sharing is something
that everyone can do well, but very few people ever really try. Accessing
the oral tradition of the residence halls and translating it into a dynamic
and dramatic presentation to help foster multiculturalism in your community
is an experience that can be open to all of your residents, including
to Access the Oral Tradition and Implement Pluralistic Programming
and facilitators of the learning experience within the residence halls,
you have resources abundantly available to you. Aside from the diverse
voices on your floor, you have multiple forums to create meaningful exchanges
of peoples experiences. Reserving time in a weekly floor or hall
meeting for residents to share a monologue they have prepared
with your help, or bringing your residents to a lecture hall one evening
to hear a cohort of their neighbors perform their real life stories are
just two possibilities to consider. You may initially approach a few residents
that you already know fairly well, or reach out to those periphery residents
that have escaped your wealth of resource.
of the year provides time during training and orientation when students
are eager to learn about their new surroundings, including the people
that live near and around them. The end of the semester also provides
a unique opportunity for reflection upon the previous term when students
might share experiences that have affected them in the last few months.
The point is that sharing can happen at any time. It is the context and
the purpose that determines its meaning.
of language can hit like a hammer. It is a tool accessible to anyone.
The potential exists for you to initiate new traditions while carrying
on old ones by utilizing the oral tradition of the residence halls. Multiculturalism
depends upon the sharing and appreciation of human differences and similarities.
By promoting pluralism in community development initiatives, you can help
make a difference in how people understand the world around them and how
they interact within it. As an RA, you have the power to harness the language
in your residence hall and make a difference in your community!
About the Author
Ryan Gildersleeve is a professional Hall Director at Iowa State University. He initiated the Voices in the Crowd student staff orientation program for the understanding and appreciation of human differences and co-chaired a task force to develop the Residence Life Leadership Series for student staff selection. He is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles