Storytelling Project Aims to Help New York City High School Students Deal With Racial Issues

AScribe – The Public Interest News Wire (Oakland, CA), May 5, 2005


An innovative program to help high school students understand and deal effectively with racial issues through stories and storytelling, has received a second grant of $100,000 in support from the Third Millennium Foundation. The Storytelling Project, developed by Barnard College Professor Lee Anne Bell in collaboration with artists, public school teachers, other academics and Barnard students, will be implemented in six classrooms at three schools this coming fall.

The Storytelling Project began when Bell was researching the way that “gatekeepers” – teachers, administrators, and counselors who often play significant roles in shaping the ideas of young people – dealt with questions about race and racism. In interviews, she realized that gatekeepers can either limit or expand opportunities for students depending on the perspectives they (the gatekeepers) hold about racial issues.

Bell said many of these authority figures would use stories to amplify their views about race. She was able to categorize these stories: some were “stock stories” that ended to justify a status quo perspective rooted in color blindness and the belief that social progress has mostly eliminated racism; others were “counter narrative stories” that confirmed the ongoing existence of racism and the need for further action to challenge it.

“The type of story gatekeepers tell often shapes the way they respond to racial problems in their schools and to student concerns about the racial issues,” said Bell.

“A story is such powerful vehicle – that is how we transmit culture. We are using all the vehicles of telling stories to address race and racism from arts, visual arts, poetry, music to dance – all conduits that young people are very tuned into, and we are drawing from that excitement,” said Bell. “Ultimately, we hope to develop new stories to lead us to a more just society.”

Subjects Covered: diversity training, education

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