Theo Sharpe Wants to Hear Your Story

On Wednesday, April 17 more than 100 students attended SIPA’s inaugural Story Slam, hosted by the Diversity Committee. The beats were hot, the beer was cold, and the up-lights were blue as students and faculty stepped up to the mic to share personal stories on the theme “lost in translation”. TMP editor-in-chief Brittany Cronin sat down with 1st year student and story slam organizer Theo Sharpe to talk about how his vision for the story slam and what comes next.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Brittany Cronin: Thanks for taking the time. I’ve been chatting with people on campus and everyone says that you’re the mastermind behind the SIPA story slam, so that’s why I wanted to sit down with you. To start, tell me how you dreamt up this event. How did it come to be?

Theo Sharpe: No, I wouldn’t say I was the mastermind. I’m on the Diversity Committee and [it was] a collaboration between the Diversity Committee and Taylor Light, who is student life chair of SIPASA. I’ve held other storytelling events, in undergrad and professionally back in Arizona. So I wanted to see if I could find a different way. You know at SIPA you see people on the fourth floor and you have conversation in passing and through your interaction in classrooms, you get to know people that way, but it’s very difficult to really understand the true DNA of yourself and where people are from and so things are a bit more about…a daily basis. So I figured it was a good way to bring SIPA as a community together. We have different perspectives, we have different backgrounds, the way we actually express those identities of ourselves, it’s different. So I thought that this would be a good event to showcase that.

BC: There was a diversity of voices, in different ways. Different countries, different languages, different storytelling formats. I’m wondering, how did you put together the lineup?

TS: So when I was thinking about the lineup, I’ve had conversations with…I always make this joke with my friends, I think I know at least 50 percent of everybody at SIPA.

BC: It seems that way.

TS: If not more. For me, it’s just I’m putting myself out there, wanting to know people’s stories, get to know people beyond just the surface level. So I picked those presenters based on my interaction and conversation. But my value was just me as an organizer wanting to find people that I thought would be willing to do it, but also wanting to go beyond that, and so the next one I want any student to step up and say I have the experience and story, I want to be able to discuss that, I want to be able to share that. I think what was beautiful [was] how everybody last night, irrespective of the stories and whether they were funny, sad or serious, people were able to rally around and see themselves in those stories.

BC: I spoke with a bunch of students afterwards to hear people’s impressions and a word that a lot of people used was vulnerable. And I feel like at SIPA, where we’re lost in multivariate regressions and trying to figure out what’s happening in macro, you don’t get that very often. But [the Story Slam] was a space that was vulnerable. It was also creative, and there was an aspect of artistry to it. So how do you get students to go there?

TS: So the thing about it...all those stories, I didn’t know what anybody was going to talk about.

BC: Wow.

TS: I had no clue.

BC: Are you serious?!

TS: I had no clue what people were going to talk about, so it could have gone sideways. It could have gone different ways. But, the part of an event like that and creating something that people will enjoy.. ‘cause once you start to put a lot of restriction you take away the authenticity. Allowing people to express themself in a language they know how to express themself. For some people it takes being vulnerable, for some people it takes being brave and courageous, and challenging themselves, and some people don’t even want to do it. It’s just saying alright, the impact you could have by sharing your story, it’s phenomenal. And getting people to that level, and everybody know that they have a place and they have a contribution here at SIPA. Cause sometimes it’s very difficult to see that. When you don’t have a community sometimes you find yourself as the only one in your classroom, your perspective is not being heard. Give each other the platform on that large of a scale to be able to express themselves, to be vulnerable, and being accepted in a way that alright, you are not going to be judged. It’s more in par for you to share your story. ‘Cause we all have unique stories within ourselves.

BC: The theme was “lost in translation”. What does that mean to you?

TS: I think for me, “lost in translation”, it’s a lot of different things. It’s my identity as an African, and also a huge part of living in the States for quite awhile and trying to balance those two perspectives. It could be very confusing because like I mentioned last night, it is to some extent “you’re not African enough,” to another extent “you’re not really American”. How do you reconcile that whole thought process?

So for me, regardless of my experiences, I’ve gone through things in the states where it makes you question and say alright, is this really the place for me? Do I feel welcome here? Especially as a black man and seeing a lot of things that goes along, you see yourself in whether it’s Trayvon Martin, you see yourself in Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner. At some point I could have been any one of those situations. So lost in translation is no matter how African I am, as an American I still face those struggles. So it’s my responsibility to fight and champion for the struggle even though to some extent I have this escape route.

BC: I think that’s where we’ll leave it. It was really a pleasure, Theo. Thank you not only for talking with me today but really for putting together the event. It was special. It felt like being a part of a community.

TS: And the goal is to have that going, and hopefully when I graduate somebody takes over and keep it going for years to come. My goal is to draw in administrators, draw in alumni, cause we all have stories we have to tell we just have to dig deep. Maybe the next one I can convince Dean Janow to tell a story. Put that in there. I’m calling Dean Janow up.

BC: Ok, I’ll @ her.

TS: Yes, we need to hear her story. ‘Cause she has unique experiences and it’s a good way to interact with students, not just on a professional institutional level. Sometimes we need to break down the hierarchy to actually bond and create unity.

BC: You should get some staff, some of the workers to come.

TS: Oh absolutely, the workers, the staff, people that work in Publique, we are a part of SIPA, right? Students, sometimes you see the people cleaning up after us. They have unique stories. You know like, what is their perception of us and what we do on a daily basis. That’s something I really want to know. So that’s definitely next semester. That’s my goal to kind of grow from that and make it bigger.