Smith College

The Women’s Narrative Project’s Signature Workshop: “Eat, Write, Talk” -  the Women's Narratives Project takes juniors and seniors on a grant-funded retreat to talk and write about themes inherent in making life decisions, including perfectionism, risk-taking, tolerating failure, and family narratives of success.

Format

  • Audience: Directed toward seniors and juniors (mostly seniors).
  • When: January-term, three-weeks between the fall and spring semesters.
  • Frequency: Three and a half day retreat (one day on campus and two at an inn or retreat center).
  • Approximate Number of Participants: 20 participants.
  • Focus of Retreat: Central to the workshop is the group experience: Students write, but they are also trained in active listening and reflecting back themes to help each other to understand their own narratives.
  • Other Participants: The project directors and main leaders of Eat, Write, Talk are the dean of religious life, the former dean of the college, and the director of the Wurtele Center for Work and Life. Faculty, staff, students, and alumnae also involved in program planning and panel discussions.

Funding & Operations

The Wurtele Center is endowed since 2010.

  • Project Directors: The Women's Narratives Project is co-directed by Jennifer Walters, Dean of Religious Life, Dean of the College Emerita Maureen Mahoney, and Jessica Bacal, director of the Wurtele Center for Work & Life.
  • External Support: Seed funding for the first three years of the program came from a Smith College alumna and is now funded through the Wurtele Center for Work & Life.
  • Operations: Our program costs about $7000. The most significant expense is transportation and off-campus lodging for 20+ students.

Description

The Women’s Narratives Project is designed to engage you in thoughtfully considering your ambitions, expectations, and hopes for the future and to provide you with tools to incorporate reflection into your life. We want you to become aware of sources of replenishment that sustain and restore you.  We use the term "narratives" because a person's self-understanding shifts and changes over time. What you write in one of our workshops will not be set in stone. Rather, we hope it will serve as a touchstone for you, a snapshot of one significant moment of transition, a single narrative among many you will write and change during your life.  You will spend three and a half days with other students thinking, reading, writing, perhaps drawing, certainly talking and enjoying great food in comfortable and nourishing setting. 

History

The Dean of the College and Dean of Religious Life at Smith observed that many Smith students had been pursuing achievement and excellence for their entire lives. Some experienced goals as external expectations rather than internal motivations; some held themselves to unrealistic, perfectionist standards that intensified their anxiety and made them fear failure. In 2007, we developed the Women’s Narratives Project and its signature workshop, “Eat, Write, Talk,” to help students begin to reflect on their own values and goals within the context of family narratives, gender expectations and the powerful culture of women’s leadership at Smith College. It began as a five day retreat (two days on campus and three days at a conference center); now it is a three and a half day retreat.

Recommended Resources

 Because our program is rooted in narrative and storytelling, we draw on narrative psychology, memoirs, blogs, and poetry to guide our choices of how to structure the work we do together.  Because we also have been involved in bringing integrative learning and reflective writing practices to the college, we’ve also looked to scholarly work on growth mindset, resilience, work-life balance, contemplative practices, and feminist pedagogy.

Administration/Operations

The Wurtele Center is endowed since 2010. Seed funding for the first three years of the program came from a Smith College alumna, Nan-b de Gaspe’ Beaubien. Operationally, our program costs about $7000. The most significant expense is transportation and off-campus lodging for 20+ students.

The Director of the Wurtele Center for Work and Life and the Dean of Religious Life are co-directors of the program.  There is also a program assistant.  The Dean of the College emerita continues to be on the planning team. 

Assessment

Smith has done program evaluation after the retreat to get feedback from participants soon after the experience to help guide planning.  Smith engaged a qualitative researcher to conduct extensive interviews with a sample of program “graduates” one to five years after participating.  This was very helpful to learn about whether the parts of the program “stuck” for students long after graduation.  Smith learned that this format is very powerful model for developing habits of reflection.