Written by Monica Black

Every third Sunday in Sacred Grounds, someone stands up, gets in front of the mic, and tells a story. It’s something people do every day, but the intentionality of the action causes a double take. The story is ten minutes, and it’s hilarious, but the crowd is teary by the end. If people always listened like this, relationships would take on marvelous new shapes.

That is the idea behind the blockly Colorado College Story Slam, started by seniors Lena Engelstein, Abby Portman, and Madi Howard, and modeled off the popular storytelling radio show The Moth Radio Hour. Staff, students, and faculty are free to prepare stories for an audition and then perform in front of a live audience.

Chatter on campus surrounding tough issues has been growing to a dull roar all year, but it is not often that students hear firsthand accounts of the effects of racism, sexism, or trauma. Story Slam has been allowing those voices to cut through the chatter.

Story Slam’s format of a person telling a true story in their own voice is particularly powerful when it comes to taboo subjects. The Block 5 Slam included two survivors of sexual assault who told their stories.

“TWIT does a good job of touching on hot topics on campus in a funny way. People produce their own plays about transgender experience, or Relations about sexual safety on campus,” said Engelstein. “But it’s a way to humanize experience, to have someone say, ‘This is my personal story on this thing, and I’m telling you because I’m not ashamed about it. This is just what happened to me.’”

The stories, however, are not all heavy; many are more light-hearted and even funny.

Story Slam hopefuls prepare stories and audition in front of the Slam directors, who select their favorites and curate the show accordingly. Each block has a theme and the stories, although they range from personal and emotional to funny, must more or less conform to that theme. Past examples include “Lost & Found” and “Borderline.”

Stories are a unique way to communicate, participants say. Kathy Giuffre, a Sociology professor at the college, once told a riveting love story from her youth at the Slam.

From her memory of Giuffre’s story, Portman recounts how the spirit of camaraderie broke down the ever-present barrier between professor and student.

“She was just as nervous as the students to tell her story,” said Portman. “She was hugging everyone who was about to tell a story too, and there was this nervous excitement. CC likes to promote that there’s this deeper connection between the students and the faculty. But that was the first time that I really experienced [that].”

The familiarity of the space contributes to the humanization of the storytellers. Story Slam is held in Sacred Grounds, where the lights are high and the room is limited. Sacred Grounds is also the site of Shove Council, Open Mic, and other meetings where students often bare all.

“We did the first Story Slam in Taylor Theatre, with the lights out and the risers,” said Portman. “Then we did this last one in Sacred Grounds, and everyone was sitting so close together and it was intimate.”

The power of stories extends to all. “You don’t have to be talented to tell a story,” said Engelstein. “You just have to get up some nerve to talk in front of people and then tell a story. Opening that door for people is really humanizing.”

For those who manage to get up that nerve, auditions are the first week of every block, and the theme for Block 7 is “Crush.” The Slam happens every third Sunday in Sacred Grounds.

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