Curtain Call: Lend an Ear

Lend an Ear

Voices Project to be recorded live at WVIA


Walking in someone else’s shoes is the general prescription for developing empathy, but sometimes all it takes is listening.

Misericordia University Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Alicia Nordstrom launched The Voices Project: Using Narratives to Reduce Stereotyping in 2009 as an experiment to see if students’ “negative attitudes toward stigmatized groups” might be changed after conducting one-on-one interviews with those who claimed discrimination. Twenty-eight students in her Introduction to Psychology course converted their interviews into monologues featuring a homeless man, a man and a woman living with AIDS, gay and lesbian characters, and African American, Hispanic, Muslim, Indian-American women and students.

The Voices Project: Disability is the second of these programs dedicated to exploring society’s latent attitudes toward those considered “different,” in this case for a disability such as deafness, blindness, dwarfism, spinal cord injury, stroke, stuttering, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or arthrogryposis. The project was presented on April 26 at Misericordia as a staged reading by a cast of students, faculty, and actors from the community. It will be revived Saturday at WVIA’s Sordoni Theater (handicapped accessible) and recorded live for later broadcast via the public network’s radio and television frequencies. American Sign Language interpretation will be provided.

“By hearing real-life stories, students can identify, empathize and critically analyze the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination faced by people who have disabilities and are considered outside social norms,” Dr. Nordstrom offered in a press release for Saturday’s event.

Interview subjects included teenagers, college students, and adults with disabilities as well as their family members associated with The Northeast Pennsylvania Center for Independent Living (NEPACIL) in Scranton. Questions focused on how the disability in question affected quality and experience of life. This research was crafted by the students into memoirs written in the first person from the point of view of the interview subjects. A faculty writing team then edited those stories for performance. According to NEPACIL statistics, 20 percent of the population is living with an identified disability.
Conducted with the support of a Misericordia University Strategic Initiative Grant, the first Voices Project program was recognized with a 2011 Action Teaching Award honorable mention from the Social Psychology Network, and a 2012 Innovative Teaching Award honorable mention from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

In addition to challenging students’ preconceptions, the program is engineered to develop critical thinking and cultural competency, said Dr. Nordstrom.

“Once you’re aware of (stereotyping), you can recognize and try to neutralize it,” she told Misericordia’s The Highlander in 2009. “And the best way to neutralize it is by remembering intimate aspects of someone’s life.”