If you look at a ranking of popular podcasts, you’ll see a ton of live storytelling titles. There’s the Moth and Spark and Porchlight and, a little farther down the list, Second Story, True Story, Risk!, Confession Booth, and many more. Each has its own flavor and style. Ann Arbor is home to at least four live-storytelling series, and now there’s a new one: Value the Voice: A Storyteller’s Lounge at U-M.

Value the Voice is a collaboration between LSA’s Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS) that is sponsored by the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). The organizers hope the event can build community and encourage students to develop a sense of belonging.

“The University of Michigan is a very big place,” says Keith Jason, an academic advisor in CSP and the co-creator of Value the Voice. “I know there are places on campus that I haven’t seen yet, and I can only imagine what that’s like through the eyes of an 18-year-old student who’s just arriving on campus. Anything we can do to equip our students to navigate this environment is exciting to me. We’re eager to help out.”

The “Me Too” Moment

Value the Voice will feature student voices along with faculty, staff, and alumni, and there will also be what the project creators call “voices of wisdom”— experts who can speak directly to that night’s theme or topic.

“It is not a lecture, though,” Jason is quick to point out. “They’re telling a story about something they know a great deal about.”     

Storytelling has the power to connect people on an elemental level, says Elizabeth James, a third-generation storyteller and program associate in DAAS who helped create the series with Jason.

“Storytelling connects you to other people while, at the same time, it allows you to share some really important information,” says James. “If we have, for example, an alum who is talking about what it was like for them when they got to campus in the 1960s, then that enables an incoming student today to hear that and really have a chance to say, ‘Wait a minute. This is scary, but other people have gotten through it and so can I.’ That connection allows students to see themselves as part of something larger as opposed to being isolated.”

“I hope we can create a lot of ‘me too’ moments,” says Jason, “moments where the people in the audience can listen to the stories and say, ‘Wow, you went through that? Me, too!’ It creates a touch point here on campus that students can look at and say, ‘If they made it, I can make it.’ Or, ‘They did this, so let me try that.’ It gives them skills or ideas to make some changes in their own experience.”

Jason and James hope Value the Voice will not only build community and cultivate a sense of belonging; they also hope the series can help students identify factors associated with achieving success, raise awareness of campus resources, and, for students who tell stories, improve their public speaking skills. They have created guidelines to help familiarize students with the live storytelling format that include practical things for students to remember, such as watch your time and pay attention to your audience, in order to help students develop as storytellers.

The program also has a diversity, equity, and inclusion component. The series invites the entire campus community, particularly marginalized groups, to share stories to connect different generations through the exploration of mutual challenges.

“I believe that stories have the power to change lives, to change paths,” Jason says. “What people do with that information once they have it is, of course, up to them. But hearing someone else’s story can get people to really look at things from a perspective that they never thought about before.”

The first Value the Voice: A Storyteller’s Lounge event will happen on Tuesday, September 26, at 7 p.m. in UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium. It will be open to the public. Refreshments will be served.