Immersion in the Human Experience

By: Devika Ranjan

November 5, 2014

It all started with Dr. Suess—The Cat in the Hat, to be specific. As a child, I read his mischievous rhymes over and over again until I memorized them, fascinated by the power of persuasive storytelling. I buried myself in novels, a book open under my school desk as I tuned out math lessons. With an affinity for Bollywood and classic musical theatre, I sang and danced through sentimental plots. I composed small stories, plays, and a rather lengthy fourth grade manuscript that I was convinced would be the next Great American Novel. In high school, I published a student literary magazine and was struck by the vulnerability of my peers, also seeking solace through creative text. We came together as communities: performing, writing, watching, telling stories.

At Georgetown, this passion has only grown. I have spent countless late nights on Lau 2 listening to cultural traditions, international anecdotes, and accounts of injustice from other Hoyas. Somewhere between stories, I realized the importance of cross-cultural communication and the articulation of values. As people share their experiences, they reflect on their lives, construct identities, and discuss politics—whether intentional or not. Their narratives started to mean more; they inspire and incite.

My attraction to purposeful storytelling translates to an academic focus in human rights, communication, and culture within the School of Foreign Service. Through my concentration, I am studying alternative means for human rights advocacy, especially through political theater and shared narratives for the development of cultural literacy.

The Doyle Engaging Differences Program spotlights diversity, which I believe is best articulated through self-expression. In harmony with the program’s commitment to understanding human experience, I plan to study South Asian political theater as a tool for progress—mirroring human experiences for an audience and fighting for democratic ideals. This work is essential to challenge cultural norms and understand society through multiple paradigms. Of course, "freedom of expression" is an inalienable right in the United States…but the importance of storytelling in education, identity, and therapy applies across the globe.

As a testament to my belief in visual narrative, I plan to use political theater techniques to implement theater for peace, freedom, and identity in other contexts—most locally, encouraging interpersonal diversity through theatrical workshops for DC public school students. Many high schoolers want ways to express themselves and shake negative societal assumptions. I believe that applied theater will help them take ownership of their identities as driven young adults and reflect their own experiences through playwriting and development. With the support of the Doyle Program, I intend to use theatrical workshopping techniques to build creativity, confidence, reading-writing skills, and self-identity for local students and create stronger DC communities.

We are often grounded in our own history, traditions, and outlook. In order to achieve cultural understanding, immersion in human experience is essential. With endless technological and expressive outlets available to us, we must capitalize on the ease of storytelling for engaging difference.

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Immersion in the Human Experience