For the past three years, a group of Sweet Briar students have bared their souls in front of complete strangers — all in the name of community for the incoming class.
Originally named the “Diversity Monologues” and launched by the Office of Co-curricular Life, the performance takes place during spring and fall Orientation and is largely student-driven.
The young women are not coached on what to write, and leaders of the program encourage honesty. Above all, it’s the individual story that matters. The authenticity of the pieces is exactly what students have come to love about the program: It’s unflinching and funny, sometimes weird, but always big-hearted.
This year, the program collaborated with the spiritual life office and gained a new name: “I am Sweet Briar.” Following the performances this fall, Chaplain Dori Baker led a discussion about the stories students shared. The response was powerful: First-years stood up and started telling their own stories, sharing their fears of being different or of not being unique at all. Most of all, they repeated how they had heard parts of their own narratives reflected on stage and had found unexpected sisterhood.
“I gained freedom,” said one participant. “It’s a great feeling to know that my story makes other girls feel secure here at Sweet Briar.”
Returning students, who often come back to hear the new monologues, say the success of the program extends far beyond the night of the performance: It breaks down barriers and helps the young women shed assumptions about their new classmates.
College photographer Meridith De Avila Khan caught up with several “I am Sweet Briar” contributors after the fall program and asked them to talk about their experiences on camera: