Story and Healing in Action: New Methods for Fostering Heart-to-Heart Dialogue about Race

By Saury, Rachel E.; Alexander, John | Multicultural Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Story and Healing in Action: New Methods for Fostering Heart-to-Heart Dialogue about Race


Saury, Rachel E., Alexander, John, Multicultural Education


I. Introduction: Breaking New Ground

At the National Association for Multicultural Education conference held in Washington, D.C., in October, 2002, Elizabeth Thompson and Rachel Saury presented methods used in a class called "Story and Healing" that Rachel coteaches at the University of Virginia with her colleague, John Alexander (http://www.faculty.virginia.edu/storyandhealing/).1

The positive feedback we received compelled us to share more widely what we are doing as part of the ongoing process of discovery as we develop this very unusual, dynamic, and challenging course. Our methods enable us to enter a discussion of the ills of white privilege and the epidemic of racism through the "back door." First, we ask students to contemplate transpersonal experiences such as healing and suffering, second, we provide them with tools to observe and analyze self and other, third, we ask them to apply these principles and methods to the study of a culture that is neutral to them -Ukraine, once part of the former Soviet Union -and fourth, we ask them to contemplate the question of how narrative heals. Only then do we ease them into the quagmire of race.

The content and methods of this course, merging perspectives in the humanities with methods and theories from various branches of clinical psychology, are beginning to be discussed around the country in response to 9/11, and as such are breaking new ground.2 A growing awareness of the reverberating effects of trauma both individually and socially coupled with the pressing need to avert more violence in whatever form, is forcing many to seek solutions in heretofore unusual partnerships. We believe we are creating a new, interdisciplinary approach to multicultural awareness which addresses the intergenerational trauma of ethnic genocide, racism, homophobia, sexism, and other biases which are based on a social devaluation and oppression of others work.3

We bring a discussion of white privilege out of a strictly sociological or political perspective to one that can be described as transcendental, or embracing how various disciplines -folklore, anthropology, history, religion, neuropsychology, neurophysiology, etc. -can bring us to a core dialogue about the nature of human suffering and how that suffering often manifests in subtle and overt acts of violence against self and other. We wish to specificly cultivate the ability to listen to and parse stories -our own and others' -as a non-judgmental, open-hearted witness. We feel multicultural education should, at its foundation, have as a goal healing the pain all Americans have around the issue of race.

Developing the skills described above are essential in overcoming the natural processes of resistance, anger, and guilt which arise in racial identity awareness and are based upon a philosophy that we need to support all voices at all stages of the process in order for social transformation to occur.4 To this end, we use social science fieldwork methods, journaling, various art projects, meditation, and storytelling to enable students to relate to the narratives of trauma from this often new and eye-opening perspective.

The results of our methods and materials have been galvanizing and made us feel we are onto something very important. Students report that the class changed their lives, changed their views on interracial tensions and prejudices, and taught them a lot about themselves and the world. In our view, they have become more aware world citizens who are more likely as they go about life to question the dominant culture, if they are white, or if they are a person of color, to have a new and potentially healing perspective on the injustices they have experienced or may yet experience in their lifetimes.

II. The Self as Central: History and Background of the Course

Since our methods and theories are rooted in the vital importance of placing the self at the center of any scholarly inquiry and because the course deals with identity formation, we will begin by introducing ourselves. …

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