November 16, 2021


Entryway for Empathy: Exploring Personal Stories in the Courageous Dialogue Series

Hearing personal stories can create a deeper understanding of the harms of racism and systemic oppression, says DePaul professor and documentary filmmaker Chi-Jang Yin. As DePaul’s Presidential Faculty Fellow, Yin produced a series of videos, titled the Courageous Dialogue Series, interviewing students, faculty and staff about their experiences. She joins the podcast to discuss to how she gained trust with her sources, how the pandemic revealed deep inequities that still exist in our society, and the role of personal stories in diversity, equity and inclusion work.



PROFESSOR YIN: Knowing the history, knowing of personal stories through different point of view, I think that is one of the way to approach, to understand systematic oppression.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul download. I'm your host Linda Blakely. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, institutions, including DePaul, have renewed anti-racism efforts. Much of that work is examining policies and programs that can strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion.

And this year, DePaul Presidential Fellow Chi-Jang Yin took a very different approach. In a series of videos she produced, she asked more than two dozen faculty, staff and students to share their personal experiences with racism and systemic oppression. She titled the work the Courageous Dialogue Series. Professor Yin is head of media art and an associate professor at DePaul. She's an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and her work centers on how digitalization of the arts and humanities can be a form of advocacy and social justice. Professor Yin joins us to talk about the power of storytelling in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Welcome, Professor Yin.

PROFESSOR YIN: Thank you so much, Linda, to inviting me and I'm so looking forward for this conversation.

LINDA BLAKLEY: ​ So am I. Why was it important to focus on personal stories of systemic oppression? What can we learn from those?

PROFESSOR YIN: Yeah, so I think personal story, it gave a very good opportunity and also entry point for people to understand that when we talk about systematic oppression is something that is not just about one particular incident. It's each step away, has its own challenge. And personal story, it gives people an entryway for empathy, to listen to story, to listen to someone's real experience. And the key thing is, when they listen to the story, they realize that it's not just a single incident. It's quite possible that they all interconnected; it's quite possible that they all have systematically linked together within the structure, within the policy. With that said, I think personal story is extremely important because a lot of time, particularly in the academic environments, we're very much driven into data learning detailed, analytic, but knowing the context, knowing the history, knowing the personal stories through different point of view, I think that is one of the way to approach to understand systematic oppression.

LINDA BLAKLEY: In one of the courageous dialogue videos, David Chack, and adjunct faculty in the theater school, talked about the power of stories in creating our identity, both individually and collectively. Here's part of what he had to say,

"Our responsibility is to not only join our stories together, but if we've learned anything in this pandemic, is that not one story is more important than the other. We cannot be supremacist about it. My story must join with yours and yours with mine.”

LINDA BLAKLEY:  So, what was your reaction when you first heard this insight?

PROFESSOR YIN: David Chack, his perception and also his experience was extremely invaluable. Speaking from the talk, that is from a Jewish community and for that particular quote that you have one thing I so appreciate is we all connected in terms of identity wise. In terms of the story, particularly story coming out from a personal, first-person experience, I will say that is non judgmental. I mean, no can no one can really judge how I feel when I experienced something when something happened to me. And that is the same quote, I think the meaning of that particular quote is we have to listen to each other. We have to learn to open up. We have to see actually we have so much more in common than differences.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I got the feeling that listening to many of the videos, viewing them, that at the heart of it was discovering shared points of reference, even though we have had different experiences. And that it made it feel and sound so very authentic. How did you get people to open up and trust you enough to share these very personal experiences?

PROFESSOR YIN: That's a great question. I share with them my expectation first, and make it very clear that this particular media project, I'm looking for personal story. And that is authentic. I'm not looking for anything about promotion. I share with them, my expectation is, this is one of the time, a very important project, that they can take this chance to gift. And I'm talking about this kind of giving, it needs to be really authentic. And then in terms of getting them to trust me, of course, it's a reciprocal feeling and reciprocal conversation and dialogue. So I share with them of where I stand on systematic oppression, on diversity issue, on inclusion issue. I share with them, look at me, I do not know everything. In fact, there's so much things that I didn't know, I didn't know. I'm still in the journey of knowing. I'm still in the journey of learning. And we are all in different parts of the journey. If you're willing to share if you're willing to give, I'm here, and this is the project for you. So the trust is there is because we both are willing to give.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Several participants referenced the pandemic as well. Let's listen to how Dr. Dan Hibbler, a professor in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, discussed it.

"Again, individually and collectively, we are experiencing trauma. Of course, as Americans, we tend to minimize it as stress: 'hey, let's just take a nap. Wake up, we'll feel better, and it'll go away.' It's more than stress. And a nap is not going to heal us."

Wow. What role did the pandemic play in having these conversations about systemic oppression?

PROFESSOR YIN: I will say the pandemic actually escalate the urgency of people trying to understand each other's story, particularly for people of color. In the past, a lot of conversation that I have with my diversity cohort group and training, people tend to think or believe that we have quite a lot of improvement as a nation in terms of systematic racism in the policy issue. But I think during the pandemic, everything is revealed so clearly, in terms of the inequity issue of the health of the academic, and all this kind of things. I think it linked together so deeply and so revealing for everyone to see. During the pandemic something change. I think something very much hit me it just like exactly what Dan Hibbler mention is I experienced trauma too. How can I gift and heal at the same time? I have to acknowledge the trauma that I experience. And one thing I think is so special of what he mentioned is yeah, you're right. I think taking a nap, feeling a little bit restful, it might not just answer the question. I think something needs to be done. And I think during the pandemic, that is what exactly wake people up is, perhaps, perhaps is not simply putting a sign out, putting something on the door, or seeing it on the Facebook is enough. There's something in terms of policy wise need to be changed.

LINDA BLAKLEY: We were in a time when we could not ignore what was right in front of our eyes. And I'm hoping that we'll go forward and have the courage to address it. Cory Barnes, who is coordinator of the Black Cultural Center at DePaul shared a very personal story about experiencing racism from his roommate when he first went to college. He then transferred, found a mentor, and eventually became a college admissions counselor working with teens from the south and west sides of Chicago. Here's how he talked about using his experience in that work:

"Sharing my story, celebrating them and letting them know, we have a lot in common, but we also have different experiences. But what I can say is education is a tool of empowerment and transformation. And racism and ostracization should not be determined for why you don't go to college, or why colleges and space for you."

What do you hope DePaul students and faculty hear from that?

PROFESSOR YIN: I will say Cory's story, something that hit me so deep, is about his acknowledgment of everyone have different story. And I think that is an important, extremely important awareness that we all have to address. I mean, a lot of time as Asian Americans, when people are saying, oh, Asian American, have a stereotype of, oh, very high academic approach, you know, academic achievement, you must be very smart. And perhaps you're not really funny. You know, all this kind of stereotype. Right? And, and I think each group, even among ourselves have this kind of stereotype. And one thing he addressed so real, so real for me is that no, even within the group that perhaps we look alike, it this means that our experience is alike. Within the group, we actually have so much differences in terms of experience wise, and we still have to learn it, learn about each other in terms of how we can be helping each other as a community. And then towards the end it's about the mentorship. Because I do think people of color, particularly need mentorship. I will say everyone should have mentorship. But people of color, a lot of times, what we have been facing is a lot more challenge in different dimensions. It's simply not just about career or living. I'm talking about some mundane things. I'm talking about how to deal with the presentation, how to deal with something more personal approach to be more healthier, a more confident individual. And I think what he mentioned is what mentorship has been helping him to be a more brave young man, how mentorship have helped him to decided to help others.

LINDA BLAKLEY: And mentorship can take so many forms. As a middle schooler, my son was in an advanced math class at the high school. And after your class, you got on a bus and you returned to middle school. And he came home one evening and said to me, 'When I got to school today, the maintenance team, one of the members of the maintenance team came to me and said "Do you know how proud I am when I see you get off the bus? When I see you get off the math bus?"' He didn't know he was being mentored. He didn't know. But he was.

PROFESSOR YIN: I mean, you're absolutely right. I mean, particularly such young age, such a tender age. Surprisingly, I think each word that people gift with a positive reinforcement means so much.

LINDA BLAKLEY: You've talked about being direct and intentional about the role your identity and perspective play in your documentary filmmaking. What did that mean for this project

PROFESSOR YIN: This year, I mean, during the pandemic, I suddenly realize how my documentary is so much co related to the DEI work that I'm doing. So in the past my documentary and recent, my documentary is constantly about the same theme. It's about how individual is intertwined with political and social infrastructure. It means that how my own identity and I can see that other people's identity a lot of time is built upon the social economic status, ableism and to become who they are. So it means that I always questioning and think about this philosophical question is, when we talk about identity, is it simply a free will? Or something that is the structurally embedded in it? And if that's the case, is it any way to make a better?

LINDA BLAKLEY: If we turn the camera on you, what story would you tell for this project?

PROFESSOR YIN: It's my fantasy that I will love to share a talk on this Courageous Dialogue project about one specific topic, which is negotiation. So I study negotiation because I'm a documentary filmmaker. The most important thing is to have access to subject, access to funding. So negotiation is part of the business. But also I stopped to study negotiation is because I'm being trained as a DEI facilitator, at the SEED project, SEED National Project. And I found that having conversation about DEI actually is the one of the very challenging moments because as academic a lot of time I don't really using my feeling much. I'm more about using my analytical skills and history and context. And negotiation is not about using history. Negotiation actually is about finding the common ground and make a bigger pie, and make the pool bigger. And so I studied negotiation at Northwestern University, as well as the Harvard Law School. And one thing very much attract me is because Harvard Law School, the negotiation program, is not about the zero sum game. It's very much about how to discover, uncover the interests of all party and make a bigger pie. And for me, that is DEI. DEI is about collaboration. So if I could have a talk, I will love to have a talk which is about why women and people of color should study negotiation, because that is a way to collectively to uncover all the interests that we have together and able to move things forward more effectively.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Well, you know, we do sponsored TEDx at DePaul University, we may be coming back to ask you to do just that.

PROFESSOR YIN: Oh, that would be great.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Thank you for having that trust in us and sharing your story. We appreciate you being on the podcast, Professor Yin.

PROFESSOR YIN: Thank you so much for inviting me. It's so great to have a conversation with you, Linda.

LINDA BLAKLEY: All of the courageous dialogue videos are on the project's Facebook, as well as on YouTube, which you can find by searching for DePaul Courageous Dialogue Series. I hope you have the time to listen and learn from them. I'm your host, Linda Blakely. Thank you for listening to DePaul Download, presented by DePaul division of University Marketing and Communications.