Fargo, North Dakota, has more diversity than you might think, as it is home to both immigrants and Fargo-Moorhead natives. It is the hope of Dawn Duncan, English professor, to bring the two groups closer together. She hopes to accomplish this by leading a Narrative 4 story exchange between the two groups.
“Concordia is currently seen by [Narrative 4] leaders as the groundbreaking college model that they hope to be able to implement other places as we learn from what we are doing here,” Duncan said.
She is currently working on setting up an exchange between immigrants and nonimmigrants in Fargo-Moorhead that will be covered by BBC America the first weekend in April.
According to their website, Narrative 4’s mission is to build “a community of empathic global citizens who improve the world through the exchange of personal narratives.” They hope to do this using their method of story exchange.
Because of Narrative 4’s innovative mission, The New Yorker Magazine featured one of their exchanges titled “A Narrative for Gun Awareness” held in New York. The article focuses on two individuals who exchange each other’s stories: Todd Underwood, a long time “gun guy” as well as gun seller, and Carolyn Tuft, a survivor of the Trolley Square massacre at which her daughter was killed.
Duncan, a facilitator and audience member at the gun exchange, recalls Underwood and Tuft’s story exchange as one of the most poignant she has ever witnessed. Duncan remembers the interaction between the two with clarity, first starting with Tuft’s narrative. “She got in his skin, let his story live in her, and allowed us to understand that.”
Next, Underwood told Tuft’s story, and Duncan recalls that “there was a point at which this big strong man had to stop, had to gather himself as her, in order to continue to tell the story.”
As an audience member to their exchange, Duncan describes being “deeply moved by seeing them together as human beings, who would in any other situation be diametrically opposed … that was empathy and action personified in those human beings.”
She said that this type of exchange is what makes the hard work of bringing the opposed together worth it.
“It truly changes people,” Duncan said.
One of Duncan’s favorite parts of the story exchange process is how it brings two people who are very unalike together.
Since returning from the New York gun exchange, Duncan has worked on facilitating multiple story exchanges for Concordia with current Cobbers. Through participating in multiple story exchanges as well as facilitating one of her own under Duncan’s supervision, Samantha Peka ’17, has observed Duncan’s “extreme dedication and passion for Narrative 4 in order to strengthen bonds between people on campus and the surrounding community. Even though not many people are willing to put themselves in vulnerable positions, Dawn continuously encourages people to participate.”
Duncan notes that one of the hardest parts of planning the event is finding those who are willing to share their story, which is what she is working on now. The goal is to feature eight immigrants and eight non-immigrants who will pair up and tell each other’s stories.
When asking people to participate in a story exchange, Duncan says that there is a natural suspicion that occurs, due to fears of being vilified by an agenda. Contrary to this notion, Duncan says, “the goal is really to bridge the difference and create empathy between these people.”
Duncan attempts to do this by trying to put herself in each side’s position and asking herself, “What is it that they fear, what do they need to hear and to hope for, and what can I say with integrity?” For example, Duncan said that immigrants and refugees are probably feeling fearful, especially in light of today’s current events.
“[In that case], what [immigrants] might need to hear is that we are welcoming [them] into this, we desire to hear [their] voice and to come to know [them],” Duncan said. Duncan goes on to discuss what might be said to a nonimmigrant who has fears about what it might mean to be a community in the United States: “What [non-immigrants] need to hear is that we are supportive of creating positive and healthy communities in the US and we would like to hear [their] voice and story,” Duncan said. “Both those are right!”
Since introducing Narrative 4 to Concordia at the fall 2016 Symposium, Duncan has worked with Narrative 4 and Concordia to hold on-going story exchanges for students and others in the Fargo-Moorhead community. Duncan continues to work hard to make the upcoming event the best and most powerful that it can be. BBC America will be coming to Concordia to feature Narrative 4’s immigrants and nonimmigrants of Fargo-Moorhead story exchange, which will be privately held in Barry Auditorium April 7-9. Audiences will be able to view the exchange when BBC airs the event coverage.