There is more to the notion of “diversity” than meets the eye, say a group of passionate Sweet Briar upperclasswomen. And they’re not afraid to expose some of their rawest emotions to explain what they mean.
About a dozen students presented the Diversity Monologues for members of the Class of 2016 in Murchison Lane Auditorium Monday evening. Beginning last year, the monologues were added to first-year orientation. A spring semester program also was held.
Some students read their own material; others brought to life stories of someone else’s experiences, both before and after their arrival at Sweet Briar. They explored race, religion and sexual identity, but topics came from less expected places, too: being too tall, being “ginger,” having epilepsy or just coming from a complicated family situation. One monologue was about being a college student who doesn’t like to party.
They were funny, serious, poignant — and spoken from the heart.
Senior Molly Harper has written several monologues that she and others have performed since the inaugural program in fall 2011. An outgoing leader on campus working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater and music, her inner struggles don’t announce themselves. But they are there. She has written on being a pagan, weight and body image issues and on being a bully — and how one led to another. As a child, Harper said she was picked on for “being too tall, too large, too everything.”
“I find the bully monologue to be very important, because it touches on the matter of civility and the treatment of others,” she says. “The fact is, when I was little I was bullied so much, I became a bully to stop the kids from making fun of me. It led me into a lot of trouble and so today, I am extremely intolerant of bullying in general.
“That is the reason I participate [in the monologues]. Name calling, jokes and pranks that hurt a person because of their differences are something that I hate and so I want to stop any and all of that on the Sweet Briar campus.”
The monologues recognize that such differences, visible and otherwise, come in all forms. They help new students, who may be working through their own conflicts, understand that they are not alone.
“By presenting a monologue you are showing yourself to be a person who can be approached on the subject matter and saying you are willing to help anyone who needs help,” Harper says.
The monologues show Sweet Briar as the diverse community that it really is, says junior Ty Shreve.
“They’re a way of telling everyone a story that they can relate to about different topics,” Shreve says. “Because a lot of people will take a quick glance at Sweet Briar and the first thing that pops into their mind might not be diversity. [The monologues] show there are all types of diversity.”
She says the monologues start conversations that continue afterward, and allow new students to open up about what’s on their minds. As an orientation docent last year, Shreve talked to first-years who attended the 2011 monologues.
“The basis of what I heard was, ‘I can relate,’ ” she says.
Shreve’s monologue is the last in the lineup and serves to sum up the program. In it, she implores listeners not to dredge up past conflicts and illuminates the American paradox that our differences are what unite us. The same is true of Sweet Briar, she says.
“We’re Sweet Briar sisters, we’re in America. In America, we’re supposed to be celebrating our differences, especially at Sweet Briar. [Here] everyone is so different and that’s part of the empowerment of girls — that we are all unique and we can use our different abilities and experiences to be empowered.”