Human Library promotes empathy and kindness through honest conversation

By Maegan White

Elm Staff Writer

The Office of Intercultural Affairs, Clifton M. Miller Library, and the Bias Education Response Team collaborated to host the first ever Human Library at Washington College, elevating student voices to the wider campus.

The Human Library is a national initiative that WC joined in November of 2022. Their mission is to challenge stereotypes and bias through open dialogue and conversation. 

On Wednesday, April 5, a kick-off event started with dinner and opening speeches from the coordinators. Assistant Dean for Student Engagement and Success and Chair of BERT Tricia Biles led all the attendees in a gratitude session to set the stage for the rest of the evening. 

On Wednesday and Thursday, members of the WC community could sign up for small sessions with “human books.” Human books are faculty, students, and staff that volunteer to share their stories and experiences with anyone who signs up to participate. 

Students, faculty, and staff could sign up for 20 minute sessions with the human books to hear their stories, ask questions, and engage in meaningful conversation. 

Director of Public Services and Faculty Librarian Alex Baker was a coordinator for the event. She said that it was important to host this event at the college to promote empathy and kindness.  

“Though we can’t always understand someone’s experiences and the intersection of their many identities, we can take a pause to truly see them,” Baker said. “These conversations are about slowing down, creating emotionally safe, sacred, and intimate spaces shared by human books and readers, where the books are empowered to share as the readers actively listen.”

This semester’s student human books included senior Jonah Nicholson and freshman Lillian Elgayar.

Nicholson’s book focused on his experience being a student leader and advocate on campus. 

“Where I was meant to be a STUDENT first, I became a full-time ADVOCATE,” part of Nicholson’s book said. “There was no bridge that I could cross that got me over the current of things I would face as a student discovering his sexuality, navigating my social environment, and becoming a leader. Over time, I found lifelines in the form of mentors and student leadership that taught me how to float. I didn’t get what I expected, however, I got something else.”

Elgayar’s book was called “Don’t Make Me Choose” and she discussed being forced to choose labels. 

“Some of the language around identity tends to push people into boxes,” Elgayar’s book said. “I am Half Egyptian, Half Russian, Half Gay, when in fact I fully identify with all these things simultaneously. Identity should not be categorized. We are individuals with unique backgrounds. Our backgrounds affect how we perceive the world and others. Checking off boxes on an application has never been easy, I do not fit into any boxes OR I fit into too many and cannot select all that apply.”

Elgayar said that the Human Library is a way to promote empathy and acceptance of all members of the WC community. 

“The human library is a powerful initiative that provides a safe and non-judgmental space for people to connect with one another and share their stories,” she said. “By being a reader and participating in the human library, individuals are given the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and learn from one another without fear of discrimination or bias.”

Nicholson said that he participated as a human book because he wanted to encourage other students to get involved in the initiative.

“The Human Library teaches our student body how to make a real connection,” Nicholson said. “How to explore someone’s story directly rather than indirectly. It teaches us how to be vulnerable. In order for us to move forward as a community, we must be willing to be vulnerable and live in that vulnerability.”

According to Baker, the exhibits are still open in the library and more events featuring the human books will take place throughout the year. 

Photo by Grace Hazlehurst

Photo Caption: The initiative is connected to the larger national Human Library organization. 

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