Dear World project encourages Hawkeyes to share stories deeper than skin

Dear World, an international project that encourages people to share their stories by writing on their skin, heads to the UI for Homecoming Week.

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The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ashle

Homecoming letters are seen on the Pentacrest on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. (Ashley Morris/The Daily Iowan)

Today, University of Iowa students will be given the chance to highlight diversity and build community by sharing their individual stories in a social experiment known as Dear World, which heads to the UI as part of Homecoming Week.

Dear World is a portrait and storytelling project that has captured 70,000 stories from around the globe. Participants in the project write their stories on their skin and are photographed.

“These portraits are then given to the participants to do with as they wish in hopes that it will spark a conversation to build a stronger community,” Dear World storyteller Casandra Corrales said. “We aim to capture the communities with the individual portraits by asking everybody to share a story only they can tell.”

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Though it has captured stories worldwide, Dear World’s roots can be found in the U.S. The project started out as Dear New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina seven years ago in which founder Robert Fogarty asked people to write a love letter to New Orleans on their skin.

Corrales said one day a man asked if he could do something different, and he stepped into the camera frame with the words “Cancer Free” written on his chest.

“It was then that Robert figured out this was bigger than just New Orleans, and suddenly the project went from Dear New Orleans to Dear World,” Corrales said.

Homecoming Council Executive Director Akash Bhalerao said Dear World was brought to UI through a collaboration between the Homecoming Council and the Campus Activities Board. This year’s Homecoming is centered on the theme of unity, and Bhalerao said the Dear World project fits the concept well.

“The purpose of Homecoming at UI is for students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the community to come together in black and gold and celebrate being a Hawkeye,” Bhalerao said. “We all have different languages, stories, and experiences, but if there’s one thing that holds us together, it’s that we’re all Hawkeyes.”

Bhalerao said he hopes the event helps students build connections with one another by sharing their stories in a public way.

“Once you share your story with someone, you really start building a connection with them rather than just sharing a fact,” Bhalerao said. “I want to take people back to the concept of coming and celebrating together.”

RELATED: Homecoming aims to be inclusive

Devin Francis, the multicultural initiatives director of the Homecoming Council, said a VIP shoot took place for faculty and staff on Monday, and the open shoot for students will occur tonight in the IMU.

“It’s really a chance for people to recognize the community we create around the University of Iowa,” Francis said. “The university is people’s family away from their actually family, and it’s a place people should feel included and safe, like they belong.”

The idea, Corrales said, is that the curiosity evoked by the messages on people’s skins sparks a conversation that builds community.

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