It takes courage to sit down to talk with someone whose political views are very different from your own. But that’s exactly what members of the Trinity community and the wider community did as they participated in One Small Step, a StoryCorps initiative that came to campus October 11–13, 2018.
One Small Step discussions follow the usual StoryCorps format—two people, 40 minutes, and a facilitator to help guide the conversation. But while other StoryCorps conversations typically feature two people who know each other well, most One Small Step dialogues take place between individuals who have not met before.
Bettina King-Smith ’21, a Jill G. and Peter S. Kraus ’74 Presidential Scholar, said participating in One Small Step was a surprisingly positive experience. “I felt nervous going into the conversation—and was preparing myself for a big argument—but what my partner and I actually did was get to know one another,” she said. “Given the increasing polarization of the political climate, I think it’s important to remember that although we may disagree, we all want to improve the society we live in.”
Her discussion partner, Nick Engstrom ’22, said, “The StoryCorps experience was amazing. It gave me the chance to interact with someone I had never met before and have a valuable and meaningful conversation.”
Trinity is the first higher education institution to partner with StoryCorps on this national initiative that seeks to connect people across America’s political divide.
Faculty members Lucy Ferriss, writer-in-residence, and Irene Papoulis, principal lecturer in the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric, served as Trinity liaisons with StoryCorps for the initiative, helping get the word out on campus and in Greater Hartford. Among members of the wider community who came to Trinity to record a One Small Step conversation were Mayors Luke Bronin (D-Hartford) and Mark Boughton (R-Danbury).
The One Small Step project is supported by a $1 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. After Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney announced Trinity’s One Small Step partnership in July, alumnus Ryan Whalen ’02 reached out to say how pleased he was that his alma mater was participating; Whalen, the Rockefeller Foundation’s managing director, global policy & advocacy, is helping to lead the foundation’s involvement with the initiative. “StoryCorps has an iconic ability to connect people through the power of conversation,” Whalen said. “At a time when politics are dividing communities and families, One Small Step is creating a space for them to come together.”
Founded in 2003, StoryCorps has recorded more than 75,000 facilitated interviews with more than 150,000 participants around the country. With the permission of participants, interviews become part of the national StoryCorps Archive, housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and segments may air nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition.
To listen to the interview with King-Smith and Engstrom, tune in at 00:33:48 for the final segment of the “Where We Live” program.