Emerson students, St. Anthony’s Shine partner to amplify underrepresented voices

By Ashlyn Wang, Photo Editor

Ava Straccia stopped in front of a poster station in the Boston Common, listening to a woman detail her experience of homelessness and mental health struggles. This story was among 22 other anonymous submissions detailed at Tuesday’s “Listen to Me! Stories of the Unnoticed.”

“She had no home, she had nobody, and she was just on the streets, getting involved in drugs,” the senior visual media arts major recalled. “She had people steal things from her. She got pregnant, she was in prison again, she had her baby in prison, and then the baby was taken away.”

The event, organized by St. Anthony Shrine with the help of Emerson faculty and students, brought narratives collected from people experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental health challenges, and members of the LGBTQ+ community to the public in hopes of raising awareness of marginalized voices and communities. 

People walking by listened to the stories told through the speakers and scanned QR codes on the posters to listen to other narratives featured on an event website.

Maria Scott, assistant professor of public relations, said the students in her media relations class organized the event entirely on their own, as the 15 undergraduate sophomores, juniors, and seniors proposed various ideas to the shrine and came up with the project together.

Students were involved in three main aspects of the event: press release, social media, and event preparation, and were divided into teams responsible for pitching to the media, promoting the event by creating social media posts, and planning the venue. 

Scott said many people do not approach the unhoused community and hear their stories.

“That’s what I’m hoping the big takeaway here is,” she said, “just please stop and start to listen.”

Junior public relations and marketing communications double major Ananya Dutta, who served on the events team, said the group worked on the project all semester. 

“We felt like we were really doing something right,” Dutta said. “Even when we’re frustrated because we have to stay late and work on [it]… we’re all so grateful that we get to work on this opportunity.”

Dutta edited the audio, and after listening to the collected stories many times, she felt grateful for her own position. 

“Listening to that in my warm apartment with a roof over my head,” Dutta said. “Even though I was so stressed with finals and everything, this does make me appreciate what I have.”

St. Anthony Shrine and Emerson students collected the stories through taped interviews, phone lines, and written work. According to Dutta, each student was asked to collect at least two stories. 

Dai Mingqian, a junior public relations major, collected a story from her friend who suffers from bipolar disorder and struggles with her mental health issues with the companionship, support, and encouragement of her friends.

Ashley Gonzalez, a first-year graduate student in Boston College’s Master of Social Work program, was drawn to the event while passing by on a walk with a friend.

“These are things that we need to shed more light on,” Gonzalez said. “I think this was a very engaging way in bringing light to what’s really going on, of these populations not being served the correct recognition or help that they actually need to thrive.”

Jonathan Pantalone was immediately drawn to the event on the way home. Pantalone identifies as bisexual and struggles with mental health challenges and resonated with the stories. 

“I think it’s really helpful because it’s just so sad, especially today, it’s bigger than ever,” said Pantalone. “I feel like students today… don’t have time to focus on their mental health, themselves, or focus on what’s important outside of school.”

Pantalone said these stories should be more widely known and suggested the student team display the event at train stations, where more people—especially medical professionals, would pass by.

“I don’t think enough people understand,” Pantalone said.

The Rev. Thomas Conway, executive director of St. Anthony Shrine, made a speech in front of a poster station around 3:30 p.m. 

“We walk past unhoused community members every day,” he said. “We sometimes underestimate the struggles of those with mental health challenges and choose to ignore the issues of the members of the LGBTQ community… Our hope is that this is just the start, and we can continue to collect and share these stories.” 

Conway believes the event was a great opportunity for people to know nonprofit organizations are working together to improve the community. 

“What we’re hoping to get out of this is to create empathy and sympathy with the general public,” Conway said in an interview with The Beacon. “You can tell this is stuff that’s of the heart and that people are greatly touched by being able to tell their story.”

Straccia reflected on the stories she heard and watched with delight as people “put in the effort” to scan the codes to listen to more stories. 

“The stories end abruptly because this is real life,” she said. “This is not something that you can just casually walk through and say that you experience it.” 

Dutta believes the most important thing about the event was its amplification of untold stories.

“Your story is important,” Dutta said. “We hear you, we want to help you, and there are programs that can help you.”