News - November 27, 2017

Storytelling night with Teacher of the Year

Linda van der Nat

It was a full house, last Friday in THUIS. Teacher of the Year Jessica Duncan worked with local comedian and storyteller Emma Holmes to host the first Diversity Chronicles as part of the ongoing Wageningen Storytelling Night.

© Guy Ackermans

The theme of the Night was diversity. Members of the Wageningen community shared personal stories about a time when they felt different.

At THUIS, the living room in the city centre of Wageningen, Duncan and Holmes worked to create a safe space. Duncan: ‘In creating a safe space, we mean that no questions are asked of the storytellers and there is no need to respond. Every storyteller could shape their story how they see fit. These were their stories to tell.’ In total six people, including current and former students, shared stories, like how hard it can be to realise that despite trying to be a good person, you may still make mistakes or use racist terms.

The Diversity Chronicles followed a free two-part workshops paid for by the funds Duncan was awarded as Teacher of the Year. At these workshops students learned the art of storytelling. They learned how to structure their story and to build up to a climax. ‘Storytelling is not about what happened, but how what happened made you feel. That’s what makes it so powerful,’ says Duncan, who opened the evening with her own story about how she grew up believing that she was a “dumb kid” and how this impacts her even now as an Assistant Professor in Rural Sociology. ‘The power of storytelling is that it is personal and understandable and gives much more insight into somebody else’s life than facts and figures.’

Internationalisation brings tensions. Wageningen is not immune for that
Jessica Duncan

According to Duncan, the night is about more than sharing personal stories. Storytelling is a very important practical skill for scientists to create impact. Students realise this too: there is already a long waiting list for the next workshops. A couple of faculty members have signed up as well. Duncan: ‘I would definitely recommend this for other teachers. It is important to foster inclusive classrooms where nobody feels left behind. Internationalisation brings tensions. Wageningen is not immune for that.’

Duncan also hopes to use the storytelling workshops as the start of a conversation about diversity. ‘During the workshop there were several stories from students about the challenges they have faced in group work. As teachers we can learn from these stories. We see these tensions in our classrooms. We need strategies to support intercultural exchange and to prevent conflicts, but there’s a lack of time and space. Through the sharing of real stories, and learning about people’s feelings, we can also start a conversation. Sometimes I think that the university's lack of focus on diversity is not ignorance, it’s a lack of stories.’