Voices of Geneseo aspires to open eyes, ears to diversity

The Voices of Geneseo Project aims to record and archive the stories of people in our community to further capture and explore diversity.

The project was inspired by a similar series featured on National Public Radio. Last fall Robert Owens, a distinguished teaching professor of communicative disorders at Geneseo; Carey Backman, associate director of the College Union and activities; Fatima Rodriguez-Johnson, coordinator of multicultural affairs and Joseph Dolce, a coordinator for instructional technologies; began soliciting and recording people's stories.

Ten stories have been collected already. "It was slow at first," Owens said. "But our goal is to have hundreds or even thousands of stories." Owens recorded his own story about being a gay man and struggling to be with the man he loves, who is in another country.

Other stories that have already been recorded include the story of a breast cancer survivor, the stories of two first-generation Americans and the story of a student that suffered from depression.

"The way to build a stronger community is to listen," Owens said. He continued, "In conversation we usually focus on what we're going to say and not what other people say." The Voices of Geneseo Project is a step toward remedying the fact that society often does not listen enough.

All of the recorded stories can be heard on the Web site for the Voices of Geneseo Project. The Web site also includes an explanation of how one can go about having their story recorded in a session that lasts about 20 minutes. Owens said, "We all have a story," and that he is eager to continue recording whoever is willing to contribute a story.

Senior Charlie Genao contributed to the project with his story about living with Asperger's syndrome. "I talked about my difficulties with social communication and academics and about how bullying was a major factor in my middle school and high school experience," Genao said. "I took this opportunity to set an example for others with this disability. It's OK to come out and ask for help. People aren't going to be as judgmental as one might think."

Senior Ahmed Sheikh contributed his voice as a first generation Pakistani-American attempting to reconcile his Pakistani heritage with the American culture in which he grew up. "It's like living two different lives in one and trying to define who I am," Sheikh said.

Sheikh highlighted one of the many advantages the Voices of Geneseo project will bring to members of the community: the knowledge that nobody is alone in their experiences. "Everyone runs into a point in their life when they just need to hear a voice saying it's going to be okay," he said.

The Voices of Geneseo Project is a step forward in the acknowledgment and appreciation of diversity, and its stories will, without a doubt, influence listeners in an unprecedented way.