CLINTON — Hamilton College is working with public radio’s StoryCorps on a new initiative, One Small Step, to solicit community members in the Mohawk Valley, as well as Hamilton students, who hold opposing views to participate in a one-hour, facilitated, recorded conversation to get to know each other.
The idea is to create opportunities in which people focus on their common humanity, not their political differences.
StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
The organization does this to remind one another of the world’s shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, StoryCorps is creating an invaluable archive for future generations.
In September, StoryCorps started the One Small Step initiative, which it had been working on since 2017.
StoryCorps called it a “social experiment,” and asked for volunteers, in an on-air series featured by WNYC’s Indivisible.
Roselyn Almonte, manager of Community Partnerships with One Small Step, said the effort is a natural fit for Hamilton College with its already on-going Common Ground series.
“Hamilton College has been having a project called Common Ground where you have two speakers coming in front of an audience” such as last year’s talk featuring Condoleezza Rice and Susan E. Rice. “It occurred to them to reach out to us, so this is really a natural fit, because what we’re trying to do is a more intimate version of that conversation. The method is a little different, but the work is still aligned. We’re excited about moving forward.”
Last year, a national call out for people to help with testing on the public radio show, All Things Considered, turned up more than 1,600 responses from people who wanted to be matched to people they did not know to have a facilitated conversation about politics.
StoryCorps issued a broad call for people to record One Small Step interviews — either in a visit to one of its storybooths or by using the organization’s free mobile app.
“We call it ‘One Small Step’ because it’s just one step away from the cliff,” StoryCorps founder David Isay told CNN. “But we’ve got to take that step away from the cliff.”
Hamilton College is now seeking potential participants who are willing to share and listen to stories of life experiences that have shaped the political beliefs of another in recorded interviews facilitated by StoryCorps. All individuals – community members and students – who are interested in participating, must complete an online questionnaire. StoryCorps will match each participant with a corresponding individual based on their responses.
One Small Step “is sort of new ground for us because it’s people coming together around political difference and coming together one-on-one,” Almonte explained. “This time it’s two strangers, and we have some suggested questions and materials to prepare them and jog their memory. We don’t want them to debate about politics, ideas or politicians, we want them to talk about how someone shaped their world view and what life experiences shaped what they think.”
Those who are selected will talk for 40 minutes with each other, guided by a facilitator from the One Small Step project. StoryCorps will record the one-on-one discussions between Hamilton students and community members between April 8-17 on Hamilton’s campus. Segments of StoryCorps interviews may be posted on the StoryCorps website and may air nationally on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
StoryCorps is a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve their stories. It created this latest initiative to facilitate conversations, not debates, across the political divide.
StoryCorps has traveled across the country collecting and archiving the stories of every-day Americans, making it the largest oral history project of its kind. Since its founding in 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived nearly 75,000 facilitated interviews from more than 150,000 participants from across the country.
One Small Step comes to Hamilton as the college continues its Common Ground initiative, whose goal it is for speakers to model the kind of respectful dialogue across political boundaries that should occur not just on college campuses, but in the broader society as well.
Hamilton has hosted speakers on both sides of a given issue, each willing to acknowledge strengths in the position of the other speaker. They have included political strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove and two former national security directors, Condoleezza Rice and Susan Rice, among others.
With the permission of participants, One Small Step conversations recorded at Hamilton will be added to the national StoryCorps Archive, which is housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Edited versions may be broadcast on a partner public radio station or possibly selected for national broadcast on NPR.
“NPR is our primary broadcasting partner,” Almonte said. “We have short 2-3 minute broadcasts. You can visit our website or NPR’s website, and the recordings are usually short snippets of short conversations with important moments that highlight parts of their stories.”
She said, “Then you could actually go to Washington and listen” to these interviews “in the Library of Congress. The heart of our organization is preserving the heart and stories of every-day Americans. We’re even starting to venture into video.”
To participate in the One Small Step initiative, prospective participants need to fill out a questionnaire at www.hamilton.edu/onesmallstep.
For more information, go to www.hamilton.edu/onesmallstepinfo or call 315-859-4623.