Reframing the story: On the chance for Storyboard to self-reflect and the dangers of tokenization

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Last week, Storyboard, the student-run group that puts on Storytime, announced that it will be suspending Storytime in order to consider the purpose it serves in the College community and how Storytime can better itself as an organization. We at the Record commend Storyboard for taking the initiative to reflect and reorient itself so that members of the College community may get the most out of it. We also wish to emphasize the importance of having Storytime as a space for students and members of the College community to congregate, simply for the purpose of learning about one another’s life experiences. While other affinity clubs on campus also serve this purpose, Storytime is the only organization at the College that does not target any singular identity or interest.

Participating in Storytime has immense value to the community members in the audience, who are able to learn more about their peers and view the College from a new perspective; however, we at the Record have concerns about the experiences of speakers. While being able to tell one’s story can be a tool of empowerment, storytellers may also unwillingly become representatives of a marginalized group or identity, which can be tokenizing and ultimately detrimental to the mission of Storytime. One way that Storytime can improve so that speakers may feel more in control of their narratives is through changing the question-and-answer session after the speaker is finished with their story. By having attendees write down their questions for the speaker and the storyteller choose which questions to answer, the person who asks a question is able to remain anonymous, and the speaker is able to control which questions they choose to address, giving them the opportunity to easily dismiss any questions they may be uncomfortable with without making the person who asked the question feel guilty.

We also recommend that a member of Storyboard speaks briefly on the issue of tokenization at the beginning of each Storytime, so that listeners may be cognizant of how they interpret people’s stories. By reminding those in the audience that one story does not represent all people of the identities that the speaker possesses, Storyboard can encourage audience members to refocus their attention on simply getting to know their peers.

Another way Storytime can be improved is through additional events that serve as times for self-reflection. By inviting back past speakers to talk about their experiences as Storytime participants, listeners can get a better understanding of how their own reactions affect the storytelling experience.

Finally, we hope that moving forward, Storytime becomes more transparent in both its overall mission and in its selection process of individual speakers. One concern we have is that those most familiar with the nominations process are perhaps too insular and self-selecting, when Storytime should be accessible to all students interested in sharing their personal experiences. Additionally, by demystifying how the final choices for speakers are made, members of the College community can better understand how Storyboard is working toward achieving an overall mission of encouraging a variety of lived experiences to be heard.

As Storytime enters this new chapter, we would like to remind the College community that Storyboard does not bear the ultimate responsibility for the viewpoints or interpretations of its audience members. It is on the listeners to keep an open mind and acknowledge any role they may have in the tokenization of a speaker. Furthermore, we at the Record hope that other organizations across campus respond to the leadership shown by Storyboard in order to create more spaces where open thought is encouraged without pressuring individuals to be defined by single identities or experiences.

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