Keuka College Hosts the Human Library

Intended to promote equity and inclusion on campus by encouraging difficult conversations, the first-time project was “meaningful and powerful.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Intended to promote equity and inclusion on campus by encouraging difficult conversations, the first-time project was “meaningful and powerful.”

When is a book not a book? When that “book” is a person, sharing part of their life story -- often the most difficult part -- with readers.
For the final class project of KC 301R Integrative Studies: Intercultural Studies, Adjunct Instructor of Spanish Dr. Lauren Shaw and her students organized the first-ever Human Library at Keuka College.
“This is the perfect project to give first-hand experience to what we talk about in (intercultural studies) class,” says Dr. Shaw. “This is much more meaningful and powerful than anything I could tell them.”
According to senior Social Work major Claire Hanley, the event “was about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We wanted to provide the opportunity to give everyone a chance to tell their story.”

During the event, eight people were the “books” who shared their stories with nearly 40 “readers” through 30-minute conversations. The “books” are not experts; rather, they represent some of the diversity of the College community.
“Readers” who were curious about the stories of individual “books” asked questions and engaged in a respectful dialogue aimed to be informative about issues such as growing up in foster care, body image, and mental health. 
Danielle Aguilar, a junior Biomedical major, said the project was eye-opening.

“It gives us a chance to educate ourselves by asking difficult questions that we wouldn’t typically ask in a regular conversation,” says Danielle, who was also a “reader,” choosing “Gender Fluid” by Robyn Relyea, a senior English major. “This let me, and the campus community, ask the deep and tough questions we may have always wanted to ask, but weren’t sure how.”

In her “book,” titled “Anxious,” Olivia Gudeahn, a freshman psychology major, talked about having both anxiety and catatonia. 
“I wanted to tell people that it’s OK to ask for help, which is what I did,” says Olivia. “Therapy is helping me, and I wanted to be a voice for what worked for me.”
Director of HEOP Dr. Lisa Thompson was also a “book,” titled “Jamaican-Born-U.S.-Citizen.” One of the questions that she was asked was what part of her she kept when she moved to New York. 
“Being able to connect with other Jamaicans and being able to easily drop into the dialect—that means a lot,” says Dr. Thompson, adding that she liked the opportunity to have open and honest conversations that aim to break down stereotypes.
Other “books” included Nhandi Applewhite, a senior Art & Design major (“Black”); Jaden Vales, a junior Social Work major (“Bulimic”); and Shaelyn Diamond, a sophomore Occupational Science major (“Chinese Adoptee”).
Also taking part were Crystal Bartlett (“Foster Care Adoptee”) and Camiren Mehlenbacher (“Transman”), friends of students recruited to join the project.

The Human Library was founded in 2001 in Denmark to promote human rights and social cohesion. To learn more about the Human Library, visit