Stage for Change: students use storytelling to create acceptance on college campuses

Deandra Cadet is a 2015 Political Science and Peace Studies graduate of Notre Dame, who co-founded the nonprofit social enterprise, Stage for Change, along with ND alum Edith Cho and ND faculty Cecilia Lucero. Irish Impact asked Deandra – in her own words – to tell us more about storytelling and its capacity to create acceptance on college campuses.  She asked us to first include a quote from the sketch, “Explanations”, which was part of the 2015 ND Show Some Skin student-run production.

showsomeskin‘I’ve never told anyone any of this…

‘these are the kinds of things no one wants to hear…

‘I shudder at the thought of what goes unspoken and I hope that we can live in an environment where people can feel comfortable talking about these thing.’

Recent events both nationally and globally depict the reality of the many unheard voices that have been disregarded in society, their stories going unheard. There is much to learn from their stories, as they demonstrate the courage needed to break the silence around various ‘stigmas’ on college campuses, whether relating to issues of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual violence, or other . The great value of stories is that not only do they shed light on what is really going on, they are also often the stepping stone for change.

Actors performing

Actors performing “Insert Minority Here” in Show Some Skin: Be Bold in 2014.

Five years ago, ND Show Some Skin was created, a fully student-run production at the University of Notre Dame. The production focused on exploring issues of identity and differences in our community and sought to give these stories a voice on campus. By combining the arts of personal storytelling and performance, the production aimed to be a catalyst for the campus community’s discovery and appreciation of Notre Dame’s true diversity.

Year after year, students and faculty send in their own stories to Show Some Skin as a reflection of the diverse experiences and perspectives that comprise the true spirit of Notre Dame. The types of stories received have grown from simply race to include gender, sexual orientation, class, body image, disability, nationality, mental health, and much more. The stories illuminate and illustrate injustice, discrimination, oppression, misunderstanding, as well as highlighting understanding, inclusivity, empathy and love. And the campus community has responded – not just in the number of submissions – but in the number of sold-out performances year-over-year.

What is Stage for Change?

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.56.46 AM

The stories we receive cry for transformation in our communities. It is from this call to action that we developed Stage for Change. Stage for Change is a nonprofit social venture that believes individuals’ stories can be used as dynamic tools to improve communities, institutions, and society as a whole. Stage for Change strives to develop and implement creative strategies for translating individuals’ narratives into effective solutions. We are a team of recent Notre Dame alums, including Edith Cho (’14) and Deandra Cadet (’15) as well as dedicated faculty member, Cecilia Lucero (First Year Studies, ‘84 alum) who have spent much of our time developing Show Some Skin over the last four years and saw the production’s potential to create impact.

What do we do?

Stage for Change, Inc. seeks to build on the success of Show Some Skin by taking unheard stories, broadcasting them through other campus theatre productions, and ultimately taking the lessons learned from those stories and shaping university policies to promote understanding, diversity, and inclusion.

Our process is circular. A common belief in our time at Notre Dame was that Show Some Skin begins and ends with the performance. Every story is a resource that can educate, influence, and create change. Our model seeks to help a community share their own stories, put them up as a theatre production, create adequate spaces to reflect and process the stories received with other members of the community, come together to reconstruct recommendations based on the stories given, share those recommendations with the appropriate stakeholders, and then repeat the cycle.

Our work will consist of consulting campuses and communities in order to develop the model, sharing the best practices learned from stories, as well as developing and leading training sessions and workshops that utilize stories for approaching issues of diversity. We believe this model can lead to more accepting campuses and communities.

Edith Cho (left) and Deandra Cadet (right) presenting at TEDxUND on their experience with Show Some Skin and the importance of centering your narrative.

Edith Cho (left) and Deandra Cadet (right) presenting at TEDxUND on their experience with Show Some Skin and the importance of centering your narrative.

I began this blog post with a quote from one of our monologues titled “Explanations.” Among all of the powerful lines throughout the production, this line gives me a sense of shared hope and deep gratefulness. Grateful that the writer felt that this was a place he could voice his experience for the first time, even if it was anonymous, and grateful that there is a shared hope for the day when our mission is fulfilled and we will reach a place of understanding, inclusion, and diversity.

What do you think of Stage for Change as an agent for generating discussion around diversity and other issues? Comment below and support their fundraiser which ends soon!

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