Hartford, Connecticut, October 18, 2018 – It takes courage to sit down to talk with someone whose political views are very different from your own. But that’s exactly what members of the Trinity community and the wider community did as they participated in One Small Step, a StoryCorps initiative that came to Trinity’s campus October 11 through October 13, 2018.
One Small Step discussions follow the usual StoryCorps format—two people, 40 minutes, and a facilitator to help guide the conversation. But while other StoryCorps conversations typically feature two people who know each other well, most One Small Step dialogues take place between individuals who have not met before.
Bettina King-Smith ’21, a Jill G. and Peter S. Kraus ’74 Presidential Scholar from San Diego, California, said participating in One Small Step was a surprisingly positive experience.
“I felt nervous going into the conversation—and was preparing myself for a big argument—but what my partner and I actually did was get to know one another,” said King-Smith. “Given the increasing polarization of the political climate, I think it’s important to remember that although we may disagree, we all want to improve the society we live in.”
Her discussion partner, Nick Engstrom ’22, from Swampscott, Massachusetts, said, “The StoryCorps experience was amazing. It gave me the chance to interact with someone I had never met before and have a valuable and meaningful conversation. It was a great experience and gave me hope that we as a school and a country can move past the political and cultural divide we have amongst ourselves.”
King-Smith added, “I would definitely recommend that others participate in this program if they have the chance.”
The three-day StoryCorps visit to Trinity was arranged so it coincided with Homecoming Weekend, increasing opportunities for Trinity alumni and families to participate in One Small Step. Several Greater Hartford residents—some of whom are also Trinity alumni—participated as well, along with a number of students and faculty. Among members of the wider community who came to Trinity to record a One Small Step conversation were Mayors Luke Bronin (D-Hartford) and Mark Boughton (R-Danbury).
Trinity is the first higher education institution to partner with StoryCorps on this national initiative that seeks to connect citizens across America’s political divide. National broadcast stories announcing the national launch of One Small Step aired September 27, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition and on Good Morning America. That was also the date of a special national launch event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Other cities that have hosted One Small Step include Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; and Abilene, Texas.
StoryCorps Founder and President David Isay said that the goal of each conversation is to bring together two people of opposing viewpoints, “not to talk about politics but just to get to know each other as human beings.” He added, “We’ve got to see if we can get the country listening to each other again and pump the brakes a little bit on the discordant division.”
The One Small Step project is supported by a $1 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. After Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney announced Trinity’s One Small Step partnership, alumnus Ryan Whalen ’02 reached out to say how pleased he was that his alma mater was participating; Whalen, the Rockefeller Foundation’s managing director, global policy & advocacy, is helping lead the foundation’s involvement with the initiative.
Whalen said, “StoryCorps has an iconic ability to connect people through the power of conversation. At a time when politics are dividing communities and families, One Small Step is creating a space for them to come together. The Rockefeller Foundation is proud to support this timely and innovative project, and I am so pleased that Trinity and the Hartford community are able to contribute.”
Faculty members Lucy Ferriss and Irene Papoulis served as Trinity liaisons with StoryCorps for the initiative, helping get the word out in Greater Hartford to encourage members of the off-campus community to participate.
Papoulis said that she and others involved in coordinating Trinity’s StoryCorps partnership are excited about the possibilities for sharing the conversations. “Our goal is to engage more members of our community through listening events as well as a digital archive. We’ll firm up the details once we receive digitally recorded content from StoryCorps later in the semester, but the important thing is to create ongoing opportunities for more people to bridge partisan divides and better understand each other by listening to the interviews and sharing their own stories.”
Founded in 2003, StoryCorps has recorded more than 75,000 facilitated interviews with more than 150,000 participants around the country. With the permission of participants, interviews become part of the national StoryCorps Archive, housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and segments may air nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Pictured above: Bettina King-Smith ’21, Nick Engstrom ’22, and StoryCorps Facilitator Camila Kerwin.