‘Once upon a time’, or its modern day equivalent, ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’ will catch my attention any time. I love a good story! But as much fun as stories are, I’ve come to understand that stories have a purpose beyond fun. In families, in organizations, and in communities, stories connect us to our history and our values; stories teach us about our world, about ourselves, about each other. 

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” Mary Catherine Bateson

In her book, Storycatcher: Making Sense Out of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, Christina Baldwin writes that story helps us make sense of our complex lives, it connects us to each other and “outlines our relationship with everything.” Understanding and sharing our stories helps us understand each other and create community.

Creating community on our campuses has never been more important than it is now. Finding space and time in the midst of all that has to be done for students, faculty, and staff to tell their stories and to listen to other stories is a critical task. Helping people listen with open minds and open hearts to painful stories and stories that paint uncomfortable pictures is important work. 

“The history of storytelling isn’t one of simply entertaining the masses, but of advising, instructing, challenging the status quo.” Therese Fowler

We are always telling stories, whether we realize it or not and with those stories we are teaching, supporting or challenging the status quo, telling people they are or are not a member of our communities. Change happens through stories. Learning happens through stories.

 As we begin another academic year, think back to your first memory of stepping foot on campus as a new student. Were you anxious and concerned about your ability to succeed? If so, what story would you share with new students to let them know you understand their fears? What story would you share to support them and inspire confidence in their ability to succeed? Our willingness to share our stories, both successes and failures, is the beginning of community.

“People become real when we put interaction into words; story is the foundation of relationship. With words alone we can create connection, establish community.” Christina Baldwin

What is your experience of story and community? Did someone tell a story that brought you into community? How are you creating space and time for students to tell and hear stories? We invite you to share your story of community and think with us about the ways story might help campuses build community this year. 

#KAedchat- Join K&A’s live Twitter Chat on Monday, August 15 from 6:00 to 7:00 pm (EDT) for a discussion of this topic exploring storytelling and community building, and the roles of campus leaders and incoming students in promoting positive but impactful growth of their communities.

*The blog post is based on the keynote given for Community Assistant training at the University of Mississippi on August 1, 2016.