Megan Hayes | News Editor
We often hear the phrase “don't judge a book by its cover,” but unfortunately few people listen. Every person we encounter has their own individual story, with multifaceted and complicated parts of what makes up their story. However, sometimes we are all quick to assume what someone is like based on stereotypes, looks, or behaviors and we do not take time to listen to the person’s full story to understand them for who they are. To combat this issue in the form of a social movement, in 2000 an author named Ronni Abergel created a social movement called “The Human Library”. The purpose of this event is to learn how to “unjudge” someone– therefore taking away the influence of stereotypes and seeing someone for their true story. The event originated from Copenhagen, Denmark, but in its 23 years of running has had its influence spread worldwide, to upwards of 6 continents and 85 countries. The event functions just like how a typical library does– “books” (participants with stories to share) are on loan for “readers” (people visiting the event). The books then share their “stories” -- it can be anything personal that is a part of the person’s identity. Common stories discussed usually focus on sexual orientation, racial or ethnic identity, growing from past traumas, major life events, and more.
The event was held on Tuesday, April 11th at the Eastern Connecticut State University J. Eugene Smith Library from 1-5pm. This year, there were 28 books on loan – 28 unique people with a story to share, with the intent of helping our community to break down stereotypes and have discussions about hard topics. The event was made possible by Eastern’s Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, the Office for Equity and Diversity, and of course, the J. Eugene Smith Library. Angela Walker, a librarian of the Eastern’s library helped to organize this event, along with Janice Wilson and David Vrooman of the library, Nicole Potestivo and Joshua Sumrell of the Unity Wing, Brooks Scavone of AccessAbility Services, as well as Aspen and Celeste, two students at ECSU.
| "We host events where readers can borrow human beings serving as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to. Every human book from our bookshelf represents a group in our society that is often subjected to prejudice, stigmatization or discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin etc.” -HumanLibrary.org
When speaking to Nicole, she stated the importance of the event revolves around “explicitly saying we are going to talk about marginalized identities, front and center... and not act like they don’t exist.” Having these intimate conversations with strangers can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar but helps the reader and the book break down harmful stereotypes aimed at marginalized groups. Having these difficult conversations in a public setting at an event specifically dedicated for doing so helps to “not hide what it is that we are talking about,” therefore allowing the readers and community to understand experiences with which they are not familiar. When the books are done sharing their stories, the readers are encouraged to ask questions about the experience, further encouraging discussion and fortifying understanding between people who would not typically share their individual life experiences. Bringing the Human Library to Eastern shows the importance of having conversations with others with different identities, as “curiosity is encouraged and done in a respectful manner,” which is a valuable life skill, Nicole concludes.
Angela Walker, the main organizer of this event, shared with me her motivation for hosting a Human Library event at Eastern. She explained that having this type of social movement on campus and allowing it to be open to the community promotes not only recognizing diversity, but also allowing a space for inclusion of these different identities. She wanted to have the Human Library at Eastern to “provide a space to have conversations with people outside our own bubble... [who we usually don’t get to talk to], especially not in person,” Angela adds. According to the website of the Human Library project (humanlibrary.org), “creates a safe space for dialogue where topics are discussed openly between our human books and their readers... where difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered.” Angela said she hopes to hold the Human Library event at Eastern next year to make it an annual event (was held in 2022 and 2023) and hopefully get more people involved, both as books and readers.
I was lucky enough to be a part of this event as a book, sharing my story with others about overcoming a challenging time in my life to try and break down stigmas. My purpose in sharing my story, which I had not shared publicly before with anyone outside of people close to me, was catered at breaking down stereotypes surrounding young women, particularly those experiencing abusive relationships or domestic violence. The experience was very healing, to say the least, for me as well as others I talked to -- with many sharing the same or similar experiences. We uplifted each other, and having sensitive conversations about difficult topics fostered hope that I could feel throughout the room. I was also able to talk to the other books at the event, opening my eyes to things I had never even considered. I felt a connection with the people willing to share their stories, and in conversation we would sometimes wander off into talking about life outside of our stories – truly seeing each other as people, and not stereotypes. The whole event was truly eye opening, with being able to see and understand so many different people with experiences outside of mine, which I would have never been able to learn about otherwise. Needless to say, I as well as many others that participated in the event will be returning when it is hosted next, as the experience was unforgettable. Keep an eye out for posters in the library and around campus about the Human Library next year, and come share your story or take time to listen to other’s experiences!