Mamaws, Nannas, & Gigis: Exploring Diversity and Global Connectedness Through Personal Stories

Conference Strand

Identity Formation


Stories have the power to connect us, to promote compassion and empathy among all societies. This session will examine how they can serve as a powerful avenue for fostering an appreciation and understanding of culture, that of our own and of others. Through storytelling, we will explore diversity while building the “democracy of the intellect” (Short, 2012. p. 16).


This presentation, workshop if you will, offers participants opportunities to engage more effectively in a global community. Attendees will leave with a deeper appreciation of personal stories, sense of self, and a better understanding of others. These insights will help assist them in the work place, classroom, and community at large.

To begin, we will explore our own personal culture, i.e. Appalachia. This beginning is fitting in that Appalachia is known for its strong oral traditions. As presenters, having grown up in the region, we will share who we are, individually and collectively, through personal stories, helping participants to make connections to not only themselves and their stories, but to cultures and traditions outside of those we personally represent. In essence, we will examine the topics of diversity and global connectedness through personal stories. Ultimately, we wish to inspire participants to narrate their own stories as they gain insight into cultures and perspectives the world over.

In this presentation, we will not shy away from the difficult issues of stereotyping and racism. In fact, we will use our own experiences and research to address the impact of these issues on the global community and demonstrate how oral narration can be used to address and discuss topics that may be perceived as uncomfortable, but timely, openly. Our stance is simplistic: We believe that discussions such as these and personal stories are vital in establishing a global community in which its members respect themselves and each other.


In The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) suggests that a single perspective may ultimately inhibit understanding of other people while multiple perspectives may serve to enhance understanding and appreciation of other peoples and cultures. Such insight is important, never more so than now. While technology has allowed us a means of rapid communication and a way to converse with people the world over, current events of mass shootings and world unrest suggest people have a limited understanding and/or appreciation of cultures and peoples (Harris, 2015; Fernandez, 2015). When coupling this insight with the ever-changing demographics of the country in which we live, the ramifications are sobering. It may be no small wonder then that our news is peppered with instances of stereotyping and social unrest. To counteract such happenings, purposeful action is needed to promote understanding, compassion, and empathy among people of all cultures.

While the literature suggests that storytelling is a powerful avenue in which to foster an appreciation and understanding for culture, that of our own and of others, somehow as a society we have thumbed our nose at sharing personal stories…opting for what some may argue, if not cerebral, at least a more streamlined approach to communication. As a whole, we tend to value instantaneous communication venues—namely tweets, emails, texts, and instant messages. In a world where the norm encompasses technologically supported dialogue with people around the globe, it seems ironic that personal and cultural understandings may be underdeveloped or lacking. Thus, what may have begun as side effect of rapid means of communication is fast becoming a cause for global concern. While the task of rectifying a concern of such magnitude is daunting, it is not insurmountable. In the words attributed to Margaret Mead (n.d.), “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Lockett and Jones (2009) suggest that “Though stories are told today more often for entertainment and amusement, the art of storytelling remains of significant value to society” (p. 177). Such a sentiment is not new. For instance, Robert Cole (1989) in his well-known work, The Call of Stories, advocates that the sharing of stories is the only way to truly understand another person. The Native American proverb, “Don't judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins,” also suggests that understanding is the result of shared experiences. More pointedly, Kenyon and Randall (1997) find that “to be a person is to have a story. More than that, it is to be a story” (p. 1).

Perhaps, more so than any other related endeavor, the sharing of personal stories allows the teller and receiver to explore not only their own beliefs, but also that of others. According to Pajares (1992) our belief systems are paramount to our individual identities in that they “provide elements of structure, order, direction, and shared values” (p 318). In light of the implication that beliefs about ourselves and others may be entrenched before adulthood and become increasingly difficult to change, the exchanging of personal stories takes on an important dimension in that, through storytelling, people may share their beliefs, though embedded in stories, that they may otherwise be reluctant to discuss. Thus, ramifications of sharing personal stories are multi-faceted and “…provide a way for us to move between local and global cultures and to explore the ways in which people live and think in cultures that differ from their own” (Short, 2012, p. 9). Simply stated, storytelling allows for conversation on personal and/or cultural topics that may otherwise not be easily accessible.

While coming to similar conclusions in another research endeavor, Taylor (2013) further determined that participants were often more inclined to reflect on their own personal stories when first considering the personal stories of others. In essence, after participants listened to and considered how others’ past experiences influenced or determined their life courses, they made parallel comparisons on how their personal beliefs, consciously or subconsciously, influenced their own life choices. For some individuals, these discoveries were truly ground-breaking and allowed them to consider perspectives and/or beliefs they had previously not considered or had left unexamined. In other words, storytelling can provide a strong springboard for both interpersonal and intrapersonal reflection.

Based on these findings, a strong argument can be made that the sharing of personal narratives is a serious contender in addressing a world where empathy and understanding for others is needed. Thus, the sharing of personal stories can provide us, as a society, with a touchstone for establishing both local and global communities. In essence, personal stories allow for the use of three dynamic tools—conversation, interpersonal reflection (interactive communication) and introspection (intrapersonal reflection). In such a light, Short’s (2012) insight rings true: “We don’t need stories; they are a frill, unless we believe passionately in the democracy of the intellect…” (p. 16).


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009). The danger of a single story. Ted Talk. http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story/ transcript

Cole, Robert (1989). The call of stories: Teaching and the moral imagination. Boston,

MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Fernandez, M. (Oct. 9, 2015). Campus shootings in Texas and Arizona kills 2 students

and wounds 4. New York Times.

Harris, G. (Oct. 9, 2015). Obama consoles families in Oregon Amid 2 more campus

shootings. New York Times.

Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a

messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307-322.

Locket and Jones (2009). Why tell stories? Kappa Delta PI Record, 45(5), 176-178.

Kenyon and Randall (1997). Restorying our lives: Personal growth through

autobiographical reflection. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.

Short, K. (2012). Story as world making. Language Arts, 90(1), 9-17.

Taylor, L. (2013). Lived childhood experiences: Collective storytelling for teacher

professional learning and social change. Australasian Journal of Early

Childhood, 28(3), 9-16.


Individual Presentations

Biographical Sketch

Professor Melissa Comer, EdD, and Professor Kathy Brashears, EdD, serve on the faculty in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Tennessee Tech University. Both teach literacy related courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Professional experience includes numerous presentations at the local, state, regional, national, and international venues as well as the publication of scholarly articles in various reputable journals.


Room 210

Start Date

2-17-2017 10:45 AM

End Date

2-17-2017 12:00 PM

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Feb 17th, 10:45 AM Feb 17th, 12:00 PM

Mamaws, Nannas, & Gigis: Exploring Diversity and Global Connectedness Through Personal Stories

Room 210

Stories have the power to connect us, to promote compassion and empathy among all societies. This session will examine how they can serve as a powerful avenue for fostering an appreciation and understanding of culture, that of our own and of others. Through storytelling, we will explore diversity while building the “democracy of the intellect” (Short, 2012. p. 16).