On Wednesday night, in the midst of an election week with climate change on the ballot, Sunrise Bowdoin held a climate storytelling workshop encouraging the Bowdoin community to connect the climate crisis to their personal identities and lived experiences.
“In the past, I’ve worked with people on their stories specifically for rallies, but in this case, I think it’s more about finding that personal link,” Ayana Harscoet ’21, workshop leader and Sunrise Bowdoin member, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It’s not like we’re going to be holding a climate rally in a couple of weeks, but [storytelling] is a really important way to stay in touch with everything that’s going on.”
Harscoet believes that the personal nature of storytelling makes it an especially useful medium for examining the multifaceted and multigenerational issue of climate change.
“One of the big things about climate change is that it’s kind of impossible to even think about [it] on the scale that it exists,” Harscoet said. “One of the things that storytelling does is it takes that incomprehensibleness of it all and turns it into something that each of us relate to.”
Harscoet centered the workshop around three different activities: “conceiving,” during which students independently reflected on and responded to prompts, “receiving,” during which students listened to the experiences of their peers and “weaving,” where students began thinking about how their personal reflections might fit into a broader narrative of climate change.
“I love [how] especially ‘weaving’ … conjures up an image of all these different threads of our identities and experiences and stories coming together in this tapestry of our experience of the climate crisis,” said Hayden Keen ’22, one of the leaders of Sunrise Bowdoin, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
The workshop had three rounds of prompts, each round consisting of questions pertaining not only to the climate crisis, but also to lived experience. Questions ranged from specific, identity-based and climate-based questions, such as “What identities do you hold most consciously?” and “How has climate change affected your community?” to more broad questions, such as “What gives you hope?”
Workshop participant Katie Draeger ’24 argues that all of these types of questions are equally significant when crafting a personal climate story.
“[Harscoet] had questions about climate change, but then there were questions about place or about really meaningful experiences and things that … shape us as human beings,” Draeger said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I think she did an amazing job at connecting those pieces in our narratives.”
Harscoet intentionally chose personal prompts—she wanted to make sure that students would consider their identities while discussing climate change and believes that doing so is an essential part of advocating for climate justice.
“Sunrise is really big on the fact that climate change should be really centered around people’s stories and lived experiences,” Harscoet said.
After each round of prompts, Harscoet put students into breakout pairs to share their reflections with another student. She encouraged partners to practice reciprocal listening, meaning that partners should be active and affirmative while listening to the experiences of others. These smaller discussions provided an opportunity for students to share their thoughts and to get to know other members of the Sunrise movement in a more intimate setting.
“It was really interesting to go into the breakout rooms and hear other people’s stories and thoughts, and how sometimes they were similar,” workshop participant Talia Mirel ’24 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It was a cool way to find a community of people thinking about their own connections to the climate.”
“Part of what makes me really love Sunrise is the community that we’ve built, and that’s something I’ve missed while being remote,” Olivia Bronzo-Munich ’23, board member of Sunrise Bowdoin, added in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Having that opportunity to do that together was really great, especially considering the week and the timing.”
Ultimately, Harscoet did not think students would begin and finish their climate stories during the hour, but rather that this workshop would serve as inspiration and motivation for continuing to craft these personal narratives and to use them to advocate for climate justice in the future.
“It’s OK if your inspiration is a small thing—it doesn’t have to be this big perspective that hits you over the head,” Draeger said. “Maybe it’s something that just grows from a conversation that really lights your senses and your heart.”