Hava Kane, Plan II and psychology sophomore, loves hearing stories. When she came to college, she spent hours having late-night conversations with new friends and quickly got addicted to listening to storytelling podcasts such as “This American Life.” Kane wanted more — at a university with so many students, she knew there were thousands of stories waiting to be told. With this idea in mind, Kane formed the student organization UTter earlier this year.
“I think we crave stories as people,” Kane said. “I’ve noticed a trend in social media like with Snap Stories. Why do we all care about what people on the UT campus are doing? I feel like we are naturally driven toward learning about people.”
UTter hosts a live show each month in which five students recall a personal experience in keeping with the night’s theme.
Before each show, UTter accepts volunteers who want to share a story. The directors meet with the speakers to help them shape their stories before the performance. After each story, speakers provide further commentary on what they learned from the experiences they described. Speakers talk for about 15 minutes, but the directors say there is not a strict time limit. For next month’s theme, “TBH,” or To Be Honest, students will rehearse and share stories about honesty.
The organization hosted its first showcase on campus March 12 with the theme “Firsts.” After rehearsing their stories, five students took turns stepping in front of the microphone in a dimly lit auditorium to talk about various first experiences. The stories ranged from one student’s first crush to another student’s first time dealing with failure and depression.
Devon Rooks, psychology junior and one of UTter’s directors, said the goal is to establish an intimate atmosphere for every show they host.
“The goal is to make it as living-room-feeling as possible,” Rooks said. “The emotional connection to some stories are a little deeper than others. We didn’t want people to be crying the whole time, and we didn’t want it all to be lighthearted.”
French sophomore Calvin Clites spoke during the showcase about being the first person in his family to attend college. Clites said UTter allows people to talk about difficult subjects they would not be able to discuss otherwise.
“It can be a way to open up a dialogue that wouldn’t normally happen on campus,” Clites said. “A lot of these stories are being told in front of an audience for the first time. A lot of people aren’t ready to tell their friends what it’s like going through depression, but doing it in this format allows people to talk about it.”
As the organization grows, Kane said she would like to work with other groups on campus. If one organization raises awareness about suicide or sexual abuse during a given month, UTter could have a showcase with a related theme, Kane said.
“We can really make a difference in people’s lives by getting people to tell their stories,” Kane said.
Kane said she believes storytelling benefits both the storyteller and audience by introducing people to new perspectives — about themselves and about each other.
“As the speaker, your perspective changes each time you tell your story, and I think you learn a lot about yourself,” Kane said. “What the audience gets out of the story is perspective. You learn something new. You gain insight into that person, and you find that you can relate to that person.”
For the first showcase, Rooks helped produce the show and also told a story. He said he found telling his story aloud to be a therapeutic experience.
“That’s what therapy is — you just sit there and tell your story,” Rooks said. “I think if we can get people to be as honest as they would be in therapy, this will be something that lasts.”