Feeling Empathy “on a Molecular Level”

Northampton Community College

When Professor Cara McClintock-Walsh brought Narrative 4 to Northampton Community College (NCC) in Bethlehem, PA last month, she knew her colleagues and students would be captivated by the story exchange. What she didn’t anticipate was her own experience of feeling empathy, as she puts it, “on a molecular level,” and the avalanche of possibilities it would open up. Here is her reflection:

Last year, I enjoyed the privilege of being faculty chair of a generous National Endowment for the Humanities grant that allowed us to offer a full year of cultural programming around a different theme. Our theme last year was “The Good Life: Engaging Questions about Life, The World, and Our Place In It,” and I invited Colum McCann to be our keynote speaker. We asked him because he, in his work and his life, believes in the real, deep, transformative power of stories, and in his work and his life shows how stories can help us all cross the barriers we face in our own lives, and from the moment he started talking to our students about Narrative 4, we knew we wanted to be a part of N4’s efforts and vision.

For our story exchange, we gathered together faculty members from all different disciplines, deans, our vice president of academic affairs, our college president, grants officers, and students from our Honors Program, Global Studies Program, and our Residence Life staff. While I’ve known about N4’s story exchanges for some time now, I had no idea how powerful they really were until I participated in one.  The exchange taught me a lot about myself as a listener, and really challenged me to quiet my own ideas in an effort not only to listen to my partner’s story, but to absorb it as fully as I could. The exchange also made me feel empathy on a molecular level: when I heard my partner tell her story, I understood it, but when I told her story as my own, I felt it, and was so moved by the story that I was overcome by emotion.  I have worked at NCC for 12 years, and I felt like I got to know my colleagues better in this one day than I have over 12 years.

One of the great strengths of a community college is our diversity—we attract and welcome students from every conceivable walk of life. At Northampton Community College, we like to say, “Our middle name is community.” For this reason, we are particularly excited by N4’s possibilities on our campus. What would a story exchange mean to criminal justice majors and the incarcerated? To our nursing majors and their patients? To our Global Studies students or Intercultural Communication students who are about to travel to different countries and encounter new cultures? To our education majors who work in our childcare center? To our funeral services majors and the families they serve? To our adult learners and our traditional students? To our refugee and immigrant students? To our Honors students and our developmental students? Indeed, to our faculty and administrators? Narrative 4 not reminds us that we are enriched by our diverse population, and challenges us to put these students in conversation with one another. We can’t wait to get started.

Cara McClintock-Walsh, PhD


More from Narrative 4 around the globe:

4/28/17 – Bridging the Middle School Divide

4/21/17 –A Culture of Caring in South Africa

4/14/17 – “A Tool for Culturally Responsive Learning”

4/7/17 – Creating a Narrative for Loss in Limerick

3/28/17 – Cross-cultural Classroom Magic in Mexico and Chicago

3/21/17 – Building Resilience in North Philadelphia

3/14/17 – Empathy in Israel

3/7/17 – Student Leaders SCHout for Diversity

2/26/17 – Creating One Military and Civilian Family at West Point

2/19/17 – Middle School Scientists Embrace the Story Exchange

2/10/17 – An Intergenerational Story Exchange in Ireland, a National Magazine Award in New York

2/3/17 – Connecting at UConn

1/27/17 – Students in Mexico Open Up About Living with Violence

1/20/17 – Narrative 4 Gun Awareness Documentary Nominated for National Magazine Award

1/13/17 – Narrative 4 Limerick Rings in the New Year with Readings

1/6/17 – Young Journalists Exchange Stories with Locals in Costa Rica