Student senate hosts first annual ‘human library project’

By Riley Collins | 4/12/17 10:50pm

Not every student has the opportunity to have a conversation with a police officer and a member of the LGBT community together over lunch. At student senate’s first ever “Human Library Project,” held Monday, April 10, where Grand Valley State University students had the chance to ask questions to a group of human “books” from diverse backgrounds.

“The goal of the event is to allow for a framework between students and the books to have dialogue and challenge stereotypes and prejudices that we see every day,” said Jakob Bigard, member of the student senate.

During the event, students were invited to “check out” any of 11 human “books” for 15 to 20 minutes before checking out another. During this time, students could ask anything to their human book and often, conversations took unexpected turns.

For officer Betsy Wenk of the Grand Valley Police Department (GVPD), many of the students she spoke with had different information they wanted to know. Some, she said, asked about human trafficking, while others wanted to know how GVPD handles assault cases.

“I’ve had some pretty interesting perspectives. It hasn’t been just one focus or viewpoint so far, it’s not as straight forward as a bio,” she said.

Students were able to speak with representatives from other organizations such as Wesley Ministries, the West Michigan Hindu Temple, Alternative Directions and the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Bigard said the inspiration for getting all of these voices together to speak with students was a growing need for unity on campus and across the U.S.

“I just thought this would be a neat event for our community because I know that Grand Valley is pretty open and accepting to people with different backgrounds,” he said. “With everything currently happening with politics, I thought it would be a good idea to make this event possible.”

Within their different backgrounds, interesting stories about career choices and post-work hobbies were included in conversations with human books. Wenk is a nontraditional student, a GVPD officer and a mother.

She will soon be finishing her liberal studies degree but when she started school, she thought her ideal major was criminal justice.

Greg Lawton, director of Wesley Fellowship, similarly thought he was going to be a scientist in college, never considering the possibility of being a deacon in the United Methodist Church. In the end, he traded his career as an environmental consultant for a position he said could show college students a more liberal approach to religion.

“Our ministry’s motto is: Be You with us," he said. "Whoever you are, whatever you got, come on in."

Lawton said assumptions and quick judgements are dangerous, since it can cause people to be misinformed about each other. Those who are skeptical of the faith might be surprised by how welcoming people like Lawton can be.

“I think people are often waiting for the switch," he said. "Like you’re nice enough until this point, then you’re not so nice. We don’t make that switch,” he said.

The human books at the event were proof there are diverse voices around the campus community just waiting to be heard. Both students and the professionals left knowing they could talk freely, and that someone was listening on the other end.

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