Move over Ira Glass – there’s a new storyteller in town. Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts is using StoryCorps, an organization that records, preserves and shares life stories, to create a snapshot of the VCU community, says Suzanne Silitch, director of communications for VCUarts.
The premise of StoryCorps is simple but powerful: Choose someone to interview, record their story and share it with the world. Established in 2003, it has grown to become one of the largest oral history projects of its kind with more than 60,000 interviews. All interviews are archived in the Library of Congress, and select stories are broadcasted on NPR.
There are three ways to record a StoryCorps interview: Make an appointment at a permanent StoryBooth, catch the MobileBooth as it travels across the country, or download the free app, StoryCorps.me. VCUarts has created its own account on the StoryCorps.me domain to archive interviews of students, alumni, faculty and community members.
One of these interviews focuses on the VCU School of the Arts in Qatar. Associate Dean Christina Lindholm and Paul Petrie, founding director of the school in Qatar and former associate dean, got together on April 8 to talk about the early days of the overseas campus.
VCU opened its first offshore branch in 1998 in Doha, Qatar — but not without hesitation from university administrators. The school was a truly progressive idea, especially in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It blazed the trail for seven other universities to join in creating what is now known as Education City.
The small program started out with only six faculty members and 33 students. “The agreement in the beginning was that we would offer the same programs with the same faculty that were on the VCU campus in Richmond,” Petrie says. “They wanted an American education taught by Americans.”
The program has since evolved into a well-respected arts school with 63 faculty members representing 15 nationalities and 323 students representing 38 countries. It also started as an all-girls school but went co-ed in 2007.
“The flavor of the school really is quite different now,” Petrie says, since returning from spending the fall 2015 semester in Doha. “It’s a European school now.”
The goal of this StoryCorps interview is to put out a more positive perception of the Middle East, Lindholm says. “There is so much horrible information out there now,” she says. “Everybody’s terrified when they see a Muslim, and it’s just so wrong.”