Dear World, Dear Smith

Photo Courtesy Of smith.edu | Becca Demante ’17 poses for the Dear World project.

Traci williams AC’18
Contributing Writer

The everyday struggle that members of the Smith community faceto remain authentic individuals while maintaining a sense of community, compounded by the country’s and the world’s post-election actions and reactions, “Dear World, Why Us? Why are the cameras on us?” Tamra L. Bates, Director of Student Engagement (OSE), answered these questions:

Dear World actually came out of some of what I witnessed last semester and how people were feeling after the election.  There was a lot of talk about being heard, about having a space to process and to share and giving Smith a chance to look at itself and acknowledge what a unique and special community we have. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in making sure people are listening that we forget to hear what they are actually saying. Dear World was a chance to give everyone a space, to let everyone who wanted to, have a space to tell us a little bit more about them.

The invitation to reflect on one’s unique story, capture that story in only a few words, display those personal words on one’s skin and have it documented and shared on the internet for all the world to see took some warming up to. In addition, there was a Storytelling Event & Photo Reveal that followed. Many who had been longing for an ear were eager to have someone listen to and capture their stories. Others, feeling more vulnerable, perceived this invitation as an invasion. Smithies, cut from many different socio-economic, religious, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation cloths, responded to the call.   

Two photo sessions, a V.I.P. on Jan. 30th and an Open Shoot on Jan 31st, yielded approximately 200 portraits, including those of students, faculty, administrative staff, hourly staff and campus police officers. Intimate stories were shared, that made the Dear World Team, Smith volunteers and all other participants smile, cry and laugh out loud. Participants left feeling stronger, connected, respected, understood and less alone in the Smith community and the world. The project fulfilled the hopes of Dear World’s founder, Robert X. Fogarty: “What we want desperately, what we truly want, is to create a space for a kid in Manhattan and a man in Mumbai to connect. We will travel the world documenting beautiful, interesting and curious people in our style. Because what we know now is the kid in Manhattan and the man in Mumbai are connected.”

Storytellers agreed to share with The Sophian. Rose Geiger ‘17, whose message to the world was “Anxiety and Depression is not equal to Isolation,” expressed her apprehension and her appreciation for the event. “It was a somewhat chaotic and exciting experience. I was humbled to be chosen. I felt special, cared for, listened to and confused. I was not sure if I was being put on a pedestal to fill a slot or theme. Despite these insecure thoughts, I knew that confidently owing my scars and doing my best to out what is a huge shame for me was a necessary experience for my healing. Key to my healing was knowing I was ready to share, I was ready to own it and could handle the attention. Two years ago, I would have said, ‘Hell no!’”

Ada Comstock Scholar Sheilena “Shay” Downey’s message and story of “Guns to Graduation” triggered a reaction of love and gratitude among the audience for the simple reason that she is alive. She explained how a traumatic event, a robber’s gun shoved against her temple, led her to Smith. With no regrets or shame and a humor unique to her, Downey thanked the “wonderful community college professor who pushed [her] to think bigger [than her environment.]”

Precious Musa ’18, “It’s More than Bad Knees,” explained, “I did Dear World on a whim. I felt I didn›t really have a specific story to tell, but then I thought about the self-love journey I’m on with my body. I’ve never explained the journey in full, [often to deflecting to ‘It’s just bad knees]. When I started talking, I didn’t expect to start crying but was glad I did! [My tears permit me] to feel everything deeply and to release when I need. I believe healing happen[s] when we share the stories of our lives. We need to heal as a collective in order to move forward in a loving manner.”

As a fellow participant and Dear World guide, I, too, echo Musa’s sentiments. It was an honor and privilege to hear the nearly 200 “unique to you” collected stories and even more gratifying and therapeutic to know my story was collected and heard, too. “I am not a Double Negative!” and I do not have to rely on “Comfortable Deflection.”

I learned that the process and the joy of this event had a similar effect on many members of our staff and faculty. Bates reflected:

The most amazing part of the events, both the VIP event and the all-day photoshoot was the storytelling. People at both events were excited to share, but they were just as excited to listen to other people and that was amazing.

Much like you, I found the experience of Dear World therapeutic. It is so easy to say we are paying attention, but at the end of the day how much do we actually hear? I spent the day listening to stories about joy and sorrow, determination, appreciation, achievement and love – I’m not sure it gets better than that.

Much like you, I found the experience of Dear World therapeutic. It is so easy to say we are paying attention, but at the end of the day how much do we actually hear? I spent the day listening to stories about joy and sorrow, determination, appreciation, achievement and love – I’m not sure it gets better than that.

To read a message from members of the Dear World team, Katie Greenman, Cassandra “CC” Corrales, and Fresh Johnson, check out the online article on the Sophian’s website.

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