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Honors student Lauren Mittelman's Vulnerability Collective tears down walls

Apr 19, 2017

Honors senior Lauren Mittelman wants you to risk talking about stuff you don't think you're supposed to share. 

Earlier this spring, KUOW's Deborah Wang interviewed Lauren about her fascinating HON499 project to promote authenticity and resilience at UW. Before it was an independent study, it was an idea Lauren had while she was far from home. Lauren explains her inspiration for the project in The Vulnerability Collective (excerpted here): 

"This role model of mine had bumps along the way and feelings that seemed to mirror mine of the past four months. She wasn't a professor with major professional successes that helped her feel confident about sharing these. She was a regular twenty-something, figuring it out day by day and month by month. I was inspired. Up until then no one had been so open about their undergraduate experiences. On that day in Barcelona, the idea came to me to build a collection of student stories and vulnerabilities. What if we all shared the stories that are otherwise not told? Why can’t we all be more honest and save everyone the trouble? So, seven countries and five months later, I was back in Seattle in January of 2016 switching around my academic schedule to pursue 5 credits of independent study which would eventually become this project. Researching university stories that are 'otherwise not told,' thus began The Vulnerability Collective."

Snapshot of a student's submission to the Vulnerability Collective

She collected stories first from friends and classmates, keeping their identities anonymous while letting the contributors describe themselves in non-traditional ways. 

Lauren was amazed at how many people wanted to share their stories, and says she was "blown away" by the public reception for her 131-page book (currently on display in the Honors suite). 

She explained: "In a followup survey I asked: what was the biggest 'take home' for you from the Vulnerability Collective event? I got so many responses, and they were mostly like these:

I felt a sense of community that I haven't felt in a while; sometimes, especially during the most stressful part of the quarter, it's easy to feel isolated in my stress. This event reminded me that I'm not alone, and that many feel stressed and isolated too, and that we can come out of this successfully. I feel like vulnerability is powerful; it connects us.

You really never know who is around you, nor what people are truly going through. It was eye opening to hear the true stories of my peers. The night reiterated to me how important it is to be loving and kind to everyone around me.

I think the biggest take home was realizing that everyone has stories and experiences that make them feel vulnerable. I constantly thought I was alone in my struggles, but I know many others share similar experiences.

...that's what I was hoping for. It makes the effort feel totally worthwhile."

The Vulnerability Collective still lives online and there has been a second run of the book, after copies ran out at the first public reading. Those wishing to order the book may send email inquiries to lmittel@uw.edu

Everyone should check it out — no exceptions. Not only will you find true stories of embarassment, heartache, abuse, loss, confusion, and bravery there - you are invited to add your own. 

While you're feeling inspired, Lauren encourages her fellow students to be creative in their own time at UW and use the resources here to make more of what they want to see in the world.

"Talk to an Honors advisor about your idea," she said. "They will do everything they can to help make it happen. I'm not sure how I would have done this project if I couldn't do it for credit."