By Jane Dail
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Joyner Library at East Carolina University plays host to different types of media, including a new one of the human variety.
Students and members of the community were invited to check out “human books” on Tuesday.
More than 20 volunteers from different backgrounds — including an HIV/AIDS-positive person, someone diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, survivors of sexual abuse and a Native American — were available for 10-15-minute conversations to answer questions or clarify misconceptions.
Kathy Kavanagh Webb, head of research and instruction services at Joyner Library, said the idea for a human library originated in Denmark in the 1990s to create an open dialogue in which people could listen to others tell their stories.
Webb said she knew she needed to bring the concept to ECU when she heard at a recent national library conference about how another university was holding a human library event to break down stereotypes and increase understanding.
“If I have not met somebody who is transgender and I have an idea in my mind what that person is like, or if I have never met somebody who is Muslim … and I have an idea of what that is like and then I meet them and I found out they have the same thoughts and hopes and dreams just like me, I think that really breaks down some of the ideas that is person is different,” she said.
Webb, who also wanted to bring the event to ECU as part of her role on the university’s diversity committee, applied for and received grant money from Student Affairs to hold the event.
Webb said she contacted several organizations on campus, including the Veterans Affairs Office, the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, Muslim Student Association and Student Activities Board for volunteers willing to share their stories.
“Every day I come in contact with students working in the library … but I don’t get to hear their story,” she said. “… It takes a special person to be a human book, because I think you have to be willing to share your story.”
Holly Parrott Hill, cancer survivorship program coordinator for Leo Jenkins Cancer Center, said her book was titled “The Two Faces of Cancer.” She said she wanted to use the Human Library as an opportunity to tell others about her program and resources cancer survivors have.
Hill, a cancer survivor herself, said she uses her experience to connect with others and bring a different perspective on survivorship.
“As a cancer survivor, you can never go back to being the same person you were before,” she said. “We really pride ourselves in teaching people about nutrition, exercise, things like that, to stave off your secondary cancers.”
Trish Goltermann, assistant director of Student Veteran Services, wanted to share her experience of living nine years in Saudi Arabia and how different the lifestyle is there.
“I’ve been told throughout the years that I have a really good story to tell,” Goltermann said. “It’s a difficult life. It’s a very, very harsh life, and the conditions can be really brutal if you’re not used to it,”
Goltermann said it was difficult adjusting to the new laws, including covering her hair with a scarf when religious police were around, covering up even in 120-degree weather, no Christmas celebrations and limited contact with members of the opposite sex.
“The very first thing that happened to me when I got there — it’s illegal to talk to a man who is not your husband or father in public — and we arrived at the airport,” she said. “A friend of ours picked us up, and I haven’t seen him for like a year. I went to give him a hug, and he said, ‘No! You’re going to get us arrested!’”
She said she often feared for her safety, and the compound her family stayed in was bombed shortly after they left.
Freshman Tate Smith is a transgender male who jumped at the opportunity after learning about the human library through the LGBT office.
Smith said offensive and incorrect terminology is something the transgender community often faces.
“I technically and biologically am a woman, but I want to be referred to as a male pronoun because that’s just how I feel more comfortable,” Smith said.
Smith said sharing a personal story and educating others is exciting.
“I prefer if people ask me questions, as long as people aren’t offensive about it,” Smith said. “It’s good to educate people about what’s going on. … I like being able to share my story and be who I am out in the open. … Being able to put across who I am, that’s exciting.”