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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

JOURNAL: Narrative4 and Enigmatic Empathy

Photo by Isabel Bonebrake
Faculty engage in a story exchange to learn more about each other and how to relate that to their own lives.

Emotions fill the air as students share personal stories about their hardships, their successes and their lives. Together they learn from each other’s lessons that will stay with them for years to come.

Narrative4 is a global nonprofit that focuses on storytelling and the way it can influence students. Their website states that “By inhabiting someone else’s story — even for a moment — we are better able to understand each other and better equipped to change the world.” 

The organization coordinates story exchanges, events where students pair up and share a personal story that follows the prompt they’re given. Students then come back to the full group and share their partner’s story as if it were their own.

Mara McAndrews, Marquette alum and founder of the Marquette chapter of Narrative4, defines it as the real-life equivalent of stepping into someone else’s shoes. 

“It’s a lot of being responsible for someone else’s story and telling it, but also hearing your own story and being able to have more empathy for yourself through hearing your story from someone else’s voice. We tend to not have as much empathy for ourselves,” McAndrews says. 

The mission of Narrative4 stresses empathy and how it can be used by young people to change their lives.  

“When we talk about empathy we talk about … not necessarily responding to understand but to let people’s stories sit with us and we can hold each other’s stories for a brief period of time,” Alex Gambacorta, a graduate student, says.

While Narrative4 has international ties, its board is currently focused on facilitating exchanges between Marquette students and faculty within classrooms.

McAndrews collaborated with the Education Preparedness Program, an initiative that works to help formerly incarcerated individuals gain their degrees. While the class had been in session for a few months, the students didn’t know each other, at least not until after the exchange. 

“It was just so incredible, and I think it’s situations like that are why I made Narrative4,” McAndrews says. “These 19-year-olds are going to know what the prison system is like, they’re going to know what these people have gone through, what their situation is like and how amazing it is that they’ve gotten here, but before the story exchange it was a poetry class.” 

Throughout these exchanges, the board spreads N4’s mission to incite empathy, and it also works to bring in new members. Elizabeth Andrzejewski, junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of N4, aims to up their recruitment for this year.  

“Our biggest thing right now is trying to get more undergrads involved because we have a lot of faculty and a lot of graduate students. That undergraduate pull hasn’t been as strong,” Andrzejewski says. “Outreach and trying to bring people together, that’s the main thing because we’re pretty new as an organization.” 

While faculty isn’t the recruitment focus currently, students have enjoyed learning about their professors. 

“Some of my favorite exchanges have been with faculty which is kind of surprising because I think there’s a separation between students and faculty,” Andrzejewski says. 

The story exchanges can create emotionally-charged situations where participants share intimate details of their lives.  

“One of the community norms we have is ‘When the exchange is finished, stories stay and lessons leave.’ It’s following that privacy aspect of ‘I’m not going to tell your story to anybody else, but you taught me so much that I’m going to hold onto this forever,’” Andrzejewski says. 

Throughout their short time together, the group has created something they are proud of. McAndrews says her proudest moment as the founder was when she facilitated exchanges at the Symposium on Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice.  

“We were coming off from a time that was so close to COVID when a lot of people were starting college and were immediately online and didn’t have the community at Marquette that I love, but it was just such a time of disconnect,” McAndrews says. “We did [the exchange] and people were like ‘I’m going to start walking out of my apartment in the middle of the day and just walking around campus because it became home to me today.’” 

Narrative4 is planning exchanges throughout the rest of the year in classes spanning English and poetry to STEM and health, and the goal is to encourage “radical empathy” in the classroom.  

Andrzejewski says, “Empathy is about being on the edge of vulnerability, that’s where that power comes out of you.” 

This story was written by Izzy Fonfara Drewel. She can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Izzy Fonfara Drewel
Izzy Fonfara Drewel, Executive Opinions Editor
Izzy Fonfara Drewel is a junior from Papillion, Nebraska majoring in journalism with a double minor in music and Spanish. This school year she will be serving as the Executive Opinions Editor. In previous years, she made her home on the Arts & Entertainment desk as the Executive Arts & Entertainment Editor. Outside of the Wire, Izzy plays the trumpet in the Marquette University Bands and spends her free time trying new restaurants and playing card games with her friends. She is excited to branch out from A&E and dive into a new experience on the Opinions desk.
Caroline Bennett
Caroline Bennett, Executive Producer of Marquette Lately
Caroline Bennett is a senior from Wilmette, Illinois studying digital media with minors in political science and business administration in the honors program and is serving as the Executive Entertainment Producer of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Before this position she served as Assistant Entertainment Producer and Production Assistant. Outside of the Wire she's an active member of Alpha Phi Eta Mu and loves scriptwriting and reading for fun. She is excited to make fun shows with her friends on the Wire and help the next group of Lately leadership.

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