At a time when many of us are missing the feeling of community, Story Slam provides Gonzaga students and faculty with the opportunity to share their stories and find connection.
Story Slam has been going on for nearly 10 years, said Josh Armstrong, a professor of organizational leadership and the faculty advisor for Story Slam.
Each Story Slam features four to six storytellers who tell a personal story that relates to that month’s theme. Most of the storytellers are students and there is at least one faculty member who takes part as well, Armstrong said.
Armstrong currently teaches a class on leadership and storytelling, which was the inspiration for Story Slam. According to Armstrong, Joe Albert previously taught the class before he retired and it was Albert and a few of his students who first started putting on Story Slams.
“I just think it’s so important for people to be there to hold those stories because they’re often sharing real parts of themselves that may be hard to articulate or that any of us might connect with, and so it’s a way for us to build community just by hearing people’s personal stories,” Armstrong said.
Isabel Thurston, a senior English and secondary education double major, co-coordinates Story Slam with Peter Jonas, a junior English major. As one of the coordinators, Thurston said her role in the event is to recruit storytellers, market the event and support the storytellers as they prepare for the event. Thurston and Jonas are also the emcees of the event and they always begin Story Slam with a skit.
Thurston describes Story Slam as a welcoming space for people to share their stories, no matter what emotion those stories evoke.
“Story slam is a storytelling event that gets to highlight different voices on campus and gives a space for people to just share parts of their lives with the Gonzaga community,” Thurston said.
After the coronavirus pandemic hit, it was harder to recruit people for Story Slams, but this school year, Story Slam has taken place as a hybrid event of in-person and Zoom audience members.
Having the event accessible to more people by allowing people to watch on Zoom has been great because families can come see the event, and it is a new way of reaching people and sharing stories, Thurston said.
Jonas first got involved with Story Slam during his freshman year when he attended the event, then ended up sharing his own story during his sophomore year. From there, he got in touch with the people who were running the event at the time and worked with them before taking on his current role as one of the coordinators.
For Jonas, the most rewarding parts of being involved with Story Slam are the community and getting to witness people craft their stories. Taking part in Story Slam is one of the highlights of his GU experience and one of the most engaging things he has done in the community, Jonas said.
“It’s been incredible to see just this blossoming community that’s something that so many people hold really dearly to them at Gonzaga in this time when we’re not really seeing that Gonzaga community,” Jonas said.
Audience members attending Story Slam in-person can attend the last Story Slam of the year on April 26 in the Wolff Auditorium at 8 p.m. The theme for the last Story Slam of the year will be “Roll With It."
To get involved with Story Slam, Thurston said to follow the Story Slam Facebook page for announcements (GU Story Slam), email her or Jonas to get on the email list and attend Story Slams.
At the most recent Story Slam, Paulina Thurmann, a senior sociology major, shared a story about one of her worst experiences babysitting from her neighborhood. Thurmann said her experience as a storyteller was nerve-wracking at first, and she was glad she shared first to get it out of the way.
However, sharing her story felt like honoring her neighborhood and Thurmann said she was glad to know her family was able to watch on Zoom as well.
“By the time I stepped on stage, though, seeing all my friends and the people I’ve come to know over four years in the crowd, I felt overwhelmed by comfort and peace,” Thurmann said. “I felt like I was simply telling a story to a group of my closest people.”
Thurmann was asked by the coordinators to tell a story, and although she didn’t feel like she necessarily had the right credentials at first, the leadership and storytelling class helped her realize no story is perfect because life is imperfect, which is what makes it beautiful, Thurston said.
Story telling can be transformative and hearing the storytellers’ stories and helping them tell their stories has been the most rewarding part of Story Slam. Thurston said that even more so now, stories are important because they can give us light in a dark time.
“We’re all hungry for connection, and stories give us that,” Thurston said.