Storytelling has emerged as a form of activism. College student activists for issues as diverse as campus sexual assault, racism, and climate change have used storytelling in order to raise awareness and inspire action. These stories take many forms across multiple media and genres, including print essays, blogs and digital stories, and hashtags.
In this course, we will examine the ways college student activists employ personal storytelling to advocate for social justice and reform, and to inspire both personal and public reflection. What prompts these students to tell stories as a form of activism? What are the bridges between personal experience and activism, between personal stories and social change? Can students’ everyday lives form the basis for critical insight and to mobilize movements? What are the ethics of crafting, circulating, and using personal narratives in student-led movements? What makes a good story for change, and why?
We’ll begin by reading personal narratives written by student activists, looking at the ways in which narrative conventions are applied, understood, and sometimes even reinterpreted or subverted. Students will then work in teams to research and present case studies of recent US student activism. This may include examining Duke student activists’ personal narratives available in the Duke archives, Tumblr collections such as Who Needs Feminism and I, Too, Am Harvard (which include students’ personal experiences as part of a collective narrative), and student-generated hashtag activism campaigns.
For the final project, students will write, workshop, and make public their own personal narratives for social change. As they reflect on our semester-long conversations and on their own commitments and personal philosophies, they will gain practice in using story to make change themselves. Students will also contribute recordings of their stories as part of our class podcast.