‘Human Library’ frames conversations on campus

Students at OMSA’s Human Library share personal stories in the basement of the Student Commons. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer

In the basement of the Student Commons, 15 books sat at desks in a closed room. One by one, students lined up at the volunteer desk to check them out, read them and bring them back. The books went fast. People read them in 15 minutes or less and brought them back, so five to 10 other students could read them before the afternoon was up. Just how short are these books, you may ask? Trick question — the books are people.

The Human Library, hosted by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Residential Life and Housing, took place March 30. Students volunteered as “human books” and were “checked out” by participants for a short conversation, which revolved around the personal story of the “book.” The conversations between books and participants took place in the Rams Lounge, in the basement of the Student Commons.

The human books chose what to talk about, from race issues and struggles with illness to LGBT topics and family dynamics. After listening to the books talk about their lives, participants were allowed to ask questions.

Noura Allen, OMSA assistant director and lead organizer for the Human Library, said anyone could volunteer to be a book, regardless of what their story was about.

“Really, we didn’t turn away any stories,” Allen said. “We just allowed our narratives to be who they are and share themselves.”

One of the “human books” was sophomore Danielle Arze, who shared her story titled “In My Genes.”

“I’m telling the story of my diagnosis.” Arze said. “I have a few chronic illnesses, and my story is about my journey getting my diagnoses.”

Arze said this is her first year volunteering as a book with the Human Library.

“The participants were so receptive and asked such genuine questions.” Arze said, wearing the purple T-shirt that designated the event’s “human books.” “One student asked me about being a woman of color in the medical [system]. I liked that he brought outside knowledge into the conversation.”

Though VCU has done the Human Library before, this is the first year OMSA has been involved in planning.

“I hope students learn from this that it’s OK to talk about their experiences,” said Dana Vandervelde, graduate assistant for OMSA and Res Life. “This is a project that exists outside of VCU that we pulled into VCU, but Noura [Allen] and I were able to put in a lot of our own input and our own preferences.”

The Human Library is an international event and is described as “a worldwide movement for social change” on its website. It was developed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2000 and has since been held by local organizers in about 70 countries.

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