Student performer at Spoken Word event.

Spoken Word at UCSF: Reflecting on Our Humanity

Graduate Division

When was the last time you listened to someone?  The last time you asked a colleague “How’s it going?” and actually cared to hear a genuine answer?

Did they surprise you? In a good way? Call me cynical, but this surprise was the real theme of the first Spoken Word event at UCSF. 

We gathered on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate the diversity of our students and staff. Flames flickered on a screen above the makeshift stage, as unfamiliar faces flooded the small room.

The performances ranged from jaunty songs masking an underlying loneliness, to poems examining the meaning of home. One of the performers read a poem about her father’s experience in the Vietnam War and the lasting effect that trauma had on her family.

A demure Asian girl shared a glimpse of a rough childhood in the inner city and an unanticipated moment of understanding. A nursing student decried the desensitization of health professionals and reminded us, as her mother always reminded her, of the need to remain compassionate.

One of the most memorable pieces further emphasized the importance of compassion. Austin Nation, a doctoral student in nursing, reflecting upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, asked the audience to examine whether we could keep that dream alive.

In a surprising interactive portion of the event, Nation asked us to turn to our neighbors, look into their eyes and realize that this person has endured hardships that we can never truly know.  We ended by hugging our neighbor, something that could have easily been too Kumbaya but somehow wasn’t.  This, he explained, was how we can keep the dream alive. 

The first Spoken Word at UCSF was sponsored by the Multicultural Resource Center and Campus Life Services Arts and Events, and organized by Anna Tran, Mijiza Sanchez and Tina Novero.

As Tran pointed out, the event served as “a kind of reality check.”  She said she hoped to make it a more regular occurrence, and she has chosen a surprisingly appropriate medium. 

The beauty of poetry, of spoken word, lies in its introduction of a space in which to reflect and share a sliver of someone else’s experience. This is how we can each help keep compassion alive and build “a world that’s not afraid of love.”

If you would like to participate in a future spoken word event, email Tran at [email protected].