On Tuesday, Dear World delivered a special and unconventional kind of letter to University of Connecticut students. Much like their founding series in New Orleans in which they photographed people who had written love letters to the city on their bodies, they travel around the world with a bigger and more impactful objective: to help us learn to love ourselves and each other in our entireties.
Dear World came to UConn with this exact intention. They held a photoshoot in the morning and a lecture in the Student Union Theatre, followed by another photo shoot later that night.
Dear World is an interactive portrait and storytelling project that travels across the globe to share the stories of over 70,000 people and counting. The project has traveled to hundreds of college campuses, businesses and corporations and has been featured on USA Today, CNN and NBC. Their most recent project involves the families and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, Florida to mark the one year anniversary of the shooting.
The organization strives to promote the sharing of unique, personal stories and experiences that everyone carries with them. Whether those stories are ones of betrayal, motivation, loss or happiness does not matter; the only things of importance are those that are true and significant.
During the hour-long talk, Fresh Johnson, a storyteller who has been with Dear World for two years, shared the stories of some children rescued from child labor in Bal Ashram, India. American sportscaster Stuart Scott and others also spoke.
These stories highlight the importance of Dear World’s work through which they strive to promote genuine, organic relationships.
First-semester sociology and human rights major Kelly McSpiritt expressed the importance of Dear World’s work to inspire others. “Everyone has their own story and purpose to life and I think it inspires you to share it with others and reflect on the things that make you, you,” McSpiritt said.
Ciara Hamilton, a seventh-semester human development and family studies major, echoed McSpiritt. “It showed that everybody... goes through something,” Hamilton said. “Everyone has a moment in their life that shapes them.”
In sharing these stories, we can form genuine connections rather than ignore our growing disconnectedness and perpetuate “surface level conversations so we can… not feel uncomfortable about getting deep,” Hamilton said.
Sharing both lighthearted and difficult stories is cathartic. “What Dear World does is important because it helps people to peel back those layers that we have… the power of telling you a story feels so good but you don’t necessarily know it until you do it, you know?” Johnson said.
Through her work with Dear World, she has also found that college students don’t talk meaningfully with one another. Instead, students stay within their own circles of friends or classmates.
Johnson question why, in the most digitally interconnected point in history, we are continuously described as the most depressed, lonely and emotionally drained generation in recent history. “Somewhere along the way in life, we have been conditioned to carry everything, and when you carry everything, it gets heavy at some point,” Johnson said.
Sometimes, simply knowing that there’s someone who can empathize with how you’re feeling can be therapeutic.
Johnson emphasized the emotional relief of sharing her story and feeling a deeper connection with people who lived through an experience similar to her own. “Going to Pulse gave me something that therapy could never even touch,” Johnson said. “I feel like you can understand me, not because you’re a therapist and you have to, but because you’ve been through the same thing so you get it,” Johnson said.
Unlike less personal social undercurrents, the only way to combat this widespread tendency towards ingenuine interactions is to follow in Dear World’s footsteps and lean into the discomfort, because you never know if the person you’re opening up to needs someone, too.
Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.