Building community through Slug Stories at College Nine and John R Lewis

Students pictured from left to right: Nik Binu, Jo Demartino, Ryan Alex, Olivia Schoettke

More than 200 students gathered on November 28 for Slug Stories, an annual College Nine and John R. Lewis College tradition. Live and in-person for the first time in three years, the event showcased nine impassioned students who told stories of life experiences that have shaped who they are today.

“Storytelling can be a vehicle for communication, validation, and strengthening of core individual and group identity at a time of life when that can be in flux,” said Rachel Goodman, a faculty member who has been shepherding students’ Slug Stories since its founding in 2016.

The annual event marks the culmination of a first-year experience program steeped in storytelling. First introduced seven years ago by College Provost Flora Lu, the Slug Stories program integrates narrative writing into the Core Course and hosts a series of events, story slams, and a website archive.

“Stories have ranged topically from the hilarious to the deeply sad to the revelatory. I’ve heard stories of recovery from addiction or mental illness, of surviving a terrorist attack, and of dating someone with special needs,” said Goodman. “Slug Stories are a kaleidoscope of human experience, and at their best evoke empathy and deep listening.” 

This year students wrote about 1,000 narratives; 50 will be uploaded to the Slug Story archive, and nine were told in person at the Slug Stories Slam. The event’s emcee and organizer, College Nine Academic Manager Madison Armstrong, emphasizes storytelling as a way for students to connect with others and show up for themselves. 

“As someone who has overcome a lot of struggles to be able to live proudly and confidently in myself, I’ve found storytelling to be a way to express myself and find common ground and understanding with others,” said Armstrong. “Through my work on the Slug Story initiative, I am able to be a catalyst for students to use and build their voice … When starting college, I think so much can get lost in going to school, hitting the books, and getting a degree. Slug Stories provides a space for students to be able to speak about themselves, their lives, their passions, what’s important to them, and build a lasting community around that.” 

Armstrong envisions a future for the program that includes story slams for the entire college community, an expanded digital archive to include more stories, videos, and images, and is excited about an affiliated storytelling course that Goodman is developing for the 2024-25 academic year. The course will explore storytelling through written and oral presentation to help students explore individual and group identities and communicate cultural values.

The Slug Story initiative and the upcoming course hope to shape the future of narrative exploration on campus, forge new connections, and strengthen individual and group identity during a critical time in students' lives. 

“These stories paint a vivid portrait of UC Santa Cruz students, going beyond the data points and superficial exteriors,” said Armstrong. “This project not only helps students find connectedness with one another but also offers staff and faculty insight into who our students are and reminds us all why we are here.”