Connected through story: Sheridan's 'Everybody's Got a Story' project
While teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Jennifer Chambers, professor of Literary Studies and Creative Writing at Sheridan, was inspired to address the disconnect students face in virtual learning spaces.
“In the fall of 2020, while teaching first-year students virtually, I wondered how we would connect….find one another…get to know each other,” she explains.
Chambers reflected on how she might facilitate improved connection amongst students – whether it be while studying on Sheridan’s three campuses or across different countries. She felt the telling of personal stories would work not only to help students feel more understood — it could help members of the Sheridan community understand each other as well.
Funded by the SRCA Growth Grant, the Everybody's Got a Story project curates personal stories from around the world and centers on the uniqueness of the individuals who make up the Sheridan community. Chambers sought out the support of Dr. Glenn Clifton, a fellow professor from Sheridan’s Creative Writing & Publishing degree program, and Dr. Patrice Esson, former Psychology professor in Sheridan’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, to spearhead the project. Together, they hired five Sheridan students who worked as Research Assistants, photographers, and digital imagists. Having a student and faculty-based team ensured that the stories not only reflected the people who make up Sheridan but were also curated collaboratively by the community.
Mirroring the popular blog “Humans of New York”, Everybody’s Got a Story focuses on personal stories that are unique, interesting, vulnerable, and inspiring. For Chambers, it was essential to present the stories as expressively as possible and avoid the glossier, targeted form of storytelling which is often produced with marketing objectives in mind.
The stories should give you the impression that you're “conversing face-to-face with a friend,” Chambers explains. “We encouraged participants to share their experiences naturally, without distraction or agenda, and to go as in-depth and personal as they'd like.”
In total, 63 stories have been collected and featured on the digital map, across five continents, aiming to showcase the diversity and vibrancy of the Sheridan community. A staff member shares the story of when she first moved to Canada and her apartment in Brampton caught on fire, detailing her emotions and sense of relief that everyone was safe; a graduating student looks back and recounts his journey to overcome substance addiction, and how the challenges in his life led him to a career in social work; a professor reflects on five years living in Vietnam, witnessing a tragic accident on a beach, and memories of lost love.
While each story is unique and personal, Chambers says she hopes they evoke a sense of familiarity for the readers, given the human-centric nature of the project. Each profile is marked by its own poignant internal reflection: the aspiring social worker remembers the time when he quit a dead-end job because it no longer aligned with his aspirations and the Sheridan professor reflects on how falling in love helped him overcome the challenges of living and working abroad.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how disconnected people can feel in their day-to-day lives, and hearing stories from others has the potential to bridge that gap.”– Dr. Jennifer Chambers, Literary Studies and Creative Writing professor
With Everybody’s Got a Story, Chambers wanted to give members of the Sheridan community the freedom to share their stories without character limits, often enabling long-form, deeper reflections.
“In a virtual learning environment, students and professors wonder who’s on the opposite end of the screen,” says Chambers. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how disconnected people can feel in their day-to-day lives, and hearing stories from others has the potential to bridge that gap, especially if the storytellers are people who are part of your community.”
Pictured in banner photo are (left to right) are Everybody's Got a Story team members Jaime Velazquez Lova (Digital Designer), Eugenie Szwalek (Interviewer/Writer), Dr. Jennifer Chambers (Principal Investigator), Dr. Patrice Esson (Faculty Advisor), Dr. Glenn Clifton (Faculty Advisor) and Nolan Brinson (Photographer/Visual Image Co-ordinator). Visit the Everybody’s Got a Story website to find the collection of 63 unique and engaging stories about people whose lives converged at Sheridan.
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