Social workers are often embedded with populations who are ignored and marginalized. A group of social work students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to break down the divide and find a way to introduce some of these individuals to the wider community. They collected personal testimonies from 18 individuals from all walks of life with the hope that these narratives will increase awareness and compassion for those who are often silenced.
The stories will be presented in a multimedia installation at UNC-Chapel Hill on April 24 called “Hear Our Voices.” Host Frank Stasio talks with organizers Elizabeth Anderson and Nina Honeycutt. He is also joined by participant Taylor Lancaster to discuss the exhibit.
Nina on interviewing marginalized people
We worked really hard…to reach out into our own networks to connect with people who wanted their stories to be heard. One thing that we learned this semester is that marginalization occurs at intersecting levels. So we have people that identified as being marginalized at intersections of race, class, age, legal status, mental illness, health in general. And it was important to us to have those identities presented on the terms of the interviewees. And so part of our installation involved having the interviewees write a two to three sentence descriptor of their identity. And an interesting thing to learn was that sometimes how we would identify someone was not how they identified themselves, and that was a great takeaway from this project.
Taylor on why she participated in “Hear Our Voices
I chose to participate mostly because I believe ignorance breeds fear. And something that has really hit home for me for a while is the stigma of people with mental illness. Because ever since I was diagnosed – they treat you differently once they figure out that you have this mental illness. They think you’re violent or you’re going to jump off a building or stuff like that. I wanted to be able to have my voice heard, I guess.
One thing about people with mental illness is it’s not just an abstract concept that they can’t use their voices. It’s actually sometimes a physical problem. Because there are what are called negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia, for instance, and they literally lose cognitive function. So I feel like since I can articulate how I’m feeling and what it’s like and what it feels like that I have to take every opportunity possible to tell people how it feels like.
Nina on how interviewees perceived themselves
Working with the person that I interviewed and then reviewing interviews that came in, I think a common theme, that Taylor touched on, was this obligation to speak despite fear or despite having power taken away. And to work diligently and intentionally to take power back. And to promote your story and your community’s story.
Elizabeth on common themes among interviewees
I think everyone really wanted to have their voices heard. Not just by the broader community but also by – a lot of people mentioned wanting lawmakers who make decisions to be aware of their voices. Because they’re not always taken into consideration when the policies that really impact them are made.
A lot of people mentioned, also, the importance of not giving up hope. I think things have been really difficult for a lot of different communities, especially right now in history with stuff that’s going on in our state and in our country. And so a lot of people really expressed that feeling of – they didn’t want to give up the fight, and they didn’t want anyone else to either. There was also a great commitment to advocacy for their communities and for other communities that maybe they’re not even a part of. The notion that everyone is in this together and while one person is not free none of us are free.