Brett Gadsden Moderates

Wednesday, February 11th at 5:30 pm, a crowd of over 50 people from across campus gathered in the Jones room of the Woodruff Library to participate in the Coalition of the Liberal Arts (CoLA) Critical Conversation, “The Power of Stories in the Liberal Arts”.

The panel included three speakers:
Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology,
Bill Eley, Professor in the School of Medicine and Executive Associate Dean of Medical Education & Student Affairs and
Kim Loudermilk, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of the Liberal Arts.

The panel was moderated by Brett Gadsden, Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies, with introductory and closing remarks by Robyn Fivush, the Associate Vice-Provost for Academic Innovation. As Fivush explained, the event was the inaugural CoLA Critical Conversation, events which the Coalition will hold throughout the academic year to realize its vision of creating dynamic structures that unleash the creative potential of Emory’s faculty and students, across the university.

Marshall Duke and Bill Eley, Q&AThat creative potential was brought to life during the Story panel; each panelist brought a unique perspective to the power of storytelling from both academic and personal viewpoints.

“Let Me Tell You a Story…”

Marshall Duke instantly engaged an enraptured audience–and proved his point–with this short phrase. As Duke pointed out, each person desires to hear the story of others, and to share their own stories. What’s more, these stories have a strengthening power.

In his work with the Myth and Ritual in American Life center (MARIAL) alongside Robyn Fivush, Duke explored how he was able to examine the role of storytelling in the American family structure. What the work showed was that children who had shared stories among their families (as simple as where their parents met) proved to be more resilient. As Duke succinctly concluded, “[Stories] have power.”

A Patient’s Narrative

Bill Eley recognized the healing aspect of storytelling as well–from the viewpoint of a physician. Physicians, he estimated, spend nearly 70% of their time with a new patient focusing on that patient’s “illness,” or the patient narrative that is given describing their disease. Why is this narrative important to treating a patient? As Eley puts it, the best physicians are “expert historians”; those who are able to listen to and create an atmosphere of trust with their patient. In this atmosphere, patients are much more likely to take the advice of the physician and therefore maximize the outcome of their treatments. And the physician? Eley advises physicians that “once you enter into that [patient’s] narrative world, it gives you such strength.”

College StoriesKim Loudermilk Addressing Crowd

Kim Loudermilk spoke last, with a visual presentation that brought the audience’s attention to the “story” of college experiences that has been presented in pop culture through the decades. With references to movies like Mona Lisa Smiles, Dead Poet’s Society and Animal House, Loudermilk was able to recognize that many of the reoccurring themes about college life in pop culture are negative, in which students are portrayed as sports playing, party throwing, sexually active youths, and faculty are portrayed as alcoholic failures.

This, Loudermilk continued, is not the reality of a college campus and it is definitely not Emory’s story. Why we should we care that this image is being portrayed? Because, as Kim poignantly pointed out, “whether they reflect reality or not,” stories can have real life effects on cultural perceptions.


Across these different perspectives, what each speaker had in common was that they elucidated the power that stories have: to engage, to heal, and even, sometimes, to deceive. Stories play a role in our careers, our families, and our own personal perceptions. And at a university such as Emory, is it clear that there are many different stories to be told.

To view a recording of this event, please click here.

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