What’s your story? Griot Storytelling Project unearths the hearts of the student body


Hunter Campbell, Contributing Writer

When Heather Hennigan ’15 came to the University in 2011, one of the first things she noticed was the lack of deep connection among students, despite the school’s small population.

“I saw so many of the same people on campus all the time, and never even knew their names. I wanted to start a project at Bucknell that was meaningful and forged some kind of human connection to help people get to know one another on campus, even just for a few brief minutes,” Hennigan said.

She looked to the Griot Institute for Africana Studies for inspiration for her project. A “griot” is a prominent figure in many West African cultures who serves as a storyteller for the community and thus maintains the community’s history and culture. From here, Hennigan forged the Griot Storytelling Project, which she hoped would be a means for students and faculty to share little pieces of themselves, acting as the University’s own “griots.”

Hennigan started small—first, she got in touch with friends and a few professors to see who may be interested in participating.

“I was amazed at how supportive everyone was,” she said. “I also found that, often, a participant came in to record a specific story and ended up recording something totally different, something often much more deep and personal than the original plan.”

Hennigan’s goal was to promote more connection on campus among students, professors, and administrators.

“I want students to feel more comfortable sharing personal narratives and be more vulnerable in their daily interactions with others, and I think this project is a testament to that kind of openness and accessibility,” she said.

Hennigan’s project flourished; participants thus far include University President John Bravman, Dean of Students Susan Lantz, and Provost Mick Smyer, among many influential students.

Graduate student Tricia Collins shared her story with Hennigan and is a testament to the project’s impact on storytellers and viewers alike. After Hennigan’s class announcement about the project grabbed Collins’s attention, she decided to take a leap of faith and participate.

“I wanted to help her out but I also thought this would be a great way to let people know something about myself that may be surprising,” Collins said. “I just wanted to let people know something about me that wouldn’t come out in normal daily conversation.”

Collins describes the recording process as a bit nerve-wracking, but she says sharing her story was cathartic. Collins wasn’t the only one that benefited from sharing her story with others, though.

“Several people have come to me thanking me for sharing my story,” Collins aid.

After countless hours in the audio recording labs of the library, Hennigan launched the Griot Storytelling Project on Oct. 2, and will continue to feature students’ and faculty members’ stories over the course of the year. Though graduation is in the near future for Hennigan, she’s already planned to pass the baton to Grace Carita ’18, who Hennigan has been training to continue the project once she is gone.

When Hennigan graduates in May, she’ll leave with an entirely new perspective than when she arrived, and she hopes her hard work will enable others to share this perspective.

“I feel like I’ve discovered a much more ‘real’ aspect of Bucknell. I’ve found an authenticity that lies underneath the stereotypical Bucknell image,” Hennigan said. “This project has continually amazed me with how incredibly unique and captivating ‘ordinary’ people can be if you actually take the time to have meaningful conversations with them.”


Click Here to See the Project 

(Visited 285 times, 1 visits today)