On February 20, StoryCorps and Dartmouth announced a three-year partnership that will bring StoryCorps’ One Small Step (OSS) initiative to campus. OSS brings strangers together for a 50-minute conversation—not to debate politics—but to get to know each other as people. As part of Dartmouth’s new Dialogue Project, this collaboration is StoryCorps’ first-ever, institution-wide OSS partnership with a college or university. 

Dartmouth students Malcolm and Samantha during their OSS conversation (photo courtesy of Dartmouth).

Recently, StoryCorps staff traveled to the college to facilitate a round of OSS conversations with a group of Dartmouth students. We spoke to a few of them about having an OSS conversation and for many, the experience was not what they expected.

Keli, one of the students who participated, explained why: “I thought there would be more tension because my partner and I have different beliefs, but we agreed on more than I thought we would—I was surprised that we had such a pleasant conversation.” Another student, Adithi, concurred, “I expected that since my partner and I had such different views, the conversation would be more political and drastic, but our conversation turned out to be more personal and academic.” 

Dartmouth students Keli and Carson during their OSS conversation (photo courtesy of Dartmouth).

Keli’s conversation partner, Carson, attributed this to the structure of the experience: “There was a bigger emphasis on how our belief and value systems have been shaped, rather than debating those beliefs, which led to a very productive dialogue.” Another student, John, liked that he and his partner had control over the exchange, which allowed it “to develop and flow in the way we wanted it to” and ultimately made the exchange “more powerful.”

A number of the students found that talking with a partner who thought differently than they did was illuminating. Adithi noted, “My partner has given so much thought to why he holds the beliefs and values that he does. I realized that I don’t consciously think about why I believe certain things, but now I will—he taught me that.” “My partner grew up abroad and when we talked about hot button topics, he had a totally different way of thinking about them and some he didn’t think of as issues at all,” said John. “I found his different way of thinking so interesting and eye opening.”

All the students found their OSS experience valuable. “On campus, you often pick friends who have similar beliefs; it can become an echo chamber,” said Carson. “OSS uses diversity to foster growth through conversation and it gives us a place to talk to those who have different beliefs in a meaningful way.” Adithi added, “We are each more than a label. This program can help promote kindness and I hope more people participate—it’s helped inform how I interact with people.” 

Concluded John, “I’m someone who leans more to the right, but I grew up in L.A., where people lean to the left. Many people have a negative view of anyone with different beliefs, but it’s possible for us to respect each other. I recommend [OSS] to everyone: it was a really great experience.”