By Luis Quintanilla
Volunteer State Community College will host Story Slam on Nov. 7th on the Gallatin Campus. The event will take place in the Rochelle Center in the Thigpen Library from 11 a.m. to noon.
During the event, students will be able to tell two to four-minute personal stories for a chance to walk away with a prize. The audience will vote on the best stories, with the first-place winner winning $75 and the second place winner winning $50.
This will be the third Story Slam at Vol State. It will also be the third year the event will be emceed by Jon Goode, an Emmy nominated poet and playwright. Attendees will be able to enjoy snacks and refreshments while listening to the stories.
According to Tabitha Sherrel, coordinator of student activities, the event is a collaboration between the Office of Student Engagement and Support and the Communications Department at Vol State.
“The communications department had the idea. They came in with the concept and then we helped them make it happen,” said Sherrel.
The two faculty members who came up with the idea for the Story Slam were Shellie Michael and Sheri Waltz, communication faculty members.
“When you come in you can kind of choose to be just an audience member, eat some cookies, and sit down, or you can actually choose to present. If you want to you sign your name,” said Waltz. She stated that if there is an overflow of people signing up, names will be drawn or if not they will just be called up.
“They just tell their story. We all laugh, cry, clap, and at the end we vote. Of course, the audience gets just a chance to be together. There’s food so that always makes it nice so you can
swing by. You don’t have to be there the whole time. You can come for a little bit, and you can leave,” explained Waltz.
The theme of this year’s Story Slam revolves around stories of being thankful. However, Waltz said the theme is ultimately secondary, the main drive is to get people to comfortably open up and share their stories.
“The point of the whole thing is for you to connect with your neighbor,” said Waltz. “Ultimately any story will do because the whole point is just to meet each other. Just to talk and have an opportunity to share something that happened to you and have other people connect with you,” stated Waltz.
Waltz said some people may share gut wrenching and emotional stories, while others will tell stories of things like going sledding with family or other casual stories. “The person can really talk about the things they want. So students who want to open up about deeper things do, and the students who don’t, don’t. It doesn’t matter because as the human race we just love stories. We listen to them. We connect with them, and we’re just drawn to them. So even stories that might be more trivial in nature are still fun to listen to. We like them. It allows even the most shy student find some avenue to connect,” said Waltz.
“Be surprised. Last year the winner was someone who was walking by and saw the food and said ‘Hey what’s going on’ and we said, ‘Oh we’re telling stories,’ and she came up, told a story, and she was the winner. So not only did she get free food. She also won money,” remarked Waltz.
The idea for the Story Slam was birthed in Michael’s and Waltz’s classrooms. The two saw the disconnection among students and their experience at college and decided the remedy to this was storytelling.
“One of the things we have found not only at community colleges but across colleges across the state and across the nation is that students just are disconnected,” said Waltz. Waltz said a few years ago she began teaching a class and she had asked the students their biggest disappointments.
“It broke my heart that the majority of them said that they just don’t have friends. They just go to class, and they leave. There’s just no real way to connect, so Shellie and I started talking about it,” said Waltz. Waltz admitted, even though students may not always be inclined to take public speaking classes, the classes her and Michael teach, they attempted to find a way to ingrate the public speaking skills students were learning with more personal connections.
The answer to this they found was storytelling.
“Students get an opportunity to talk about themselves and what they’ve gone through, and they get to hear from each other and hear other students that have done the same thing maybe handled it differently. They get to practice empathy. They get to laugh. They get to cry. They get to be shocked. They get to be sad. All of those things,” said Waltz. In Waltz’s class, the very first speech students give are short personal stories in front of the class. Waltz said the results of this were evident in the classroom and then in the course evaluations given by students at the end of the semester.
“They get to know eachother and I hear them talking about how much they like the classroom environment and about how this is the only class where they know the people who are sitting next to them, or this is the only class where they can name everybody’s name. To me that is attributed to that that we spend time in the beginning of our class learning public speaking skills, but we do it in a way that allows the audience to connect with each other,” said Waltz. “They write about it in their evaluations at the end of the semester. It is by far the number one thing that
is commented on in the evaluation, and it is commented about how positive that experience was for them to write about themselves and for them to talk about themselves and them to listen to their peers about things that happened,” explained Waltz.
After its success in the classroom, Waltz and Michael wanted to make it across the campus, which is where the Story Slam came from.
“It is really about finding ways for our students on this campus to build relationships so that they feel a sense of connection so that they know that they matter and that what they’re doing here matters and that eventually it’ll lead to graduation. For us in public speaking it makes a lot of sense because we can teach it in the classroom, but at the end of the day whether you ever taken the public speaking class or not, stories are integral to who we are. You don’t even have to be a public speaking student to do this. It’s just fun for everybody. That’s why we thought a campus-wide event would make sense. We wanted this to be more relaxed. About us just being a part of the Vol State community. You know and getting a chance to share who you are and how people respond positively to that. It feels nice,” remarked Waltz.