Laura Cathcart Robbins concluded her presentation on Monday evening with a quote from the late author Toni Morrison.
“Freeing yourself is one thing,” Robbins said. “Claiming ownership of your freed self is another.”
Students gathered at 7 p.m. in the Alice Haynes Room in Tyler Haynes Commons for the event, titled “The Only One in the Room.”
The UR Wellness Education Bandits organized the presentation that was designed to help students understand that they are not “the only one in the room” and bring a community together by sharing personal stories.
Robbins spoke to students about her struggles as an African American woman, her substance abuse recovery journey and how to help people tell their own stories in a meaningful way.
As a freelance writer and host of the podcast “The Only One in the Room,” Robbins delivered a 45-minute speech that focused on the importance of overcoming a discriminatory system, in addition to the isolation it had caused her as a black woman growing up in a predominantly white area.
“Before I'm intelligent, I’m black,” Robbins said. “Before I’m a mother, I’m black. Before I’m in shape, I’m black.
"Before I am kind and generous, I am black.”
Robbins said that Americans, who are citizens of a country built on the premise of race superiority, more than likely had bought into a racist system without even realizing it, whether they were racist or not.
Her presentation aimed to make students feel more comfortable sharing and overcoming their insecurities and differences as she acknowledged her previous struggles with pills and alcohol as another form of “oneness.”
“This black, unemployed, 55-year-old high school dropout, rape survivor, alcoholic, divorced, single-mother is living her best life right now,” Robbins said. “My mission tonight is to allow you to see that your freedom lies in claiming your own oneness.
“I hope I've illustrated for you that claiming mine not only saved my life, but it gave me life.”
Robbins’ openness with her struggle to fit in helped motivate students to share their sensitive and personal stories that make them feel insecure.
Senior Lindsey Paul was happy to have attended the event.
“It was really powerful to have people in the room sharing intimate things about themselves,” Paul said. “It takes a really brave person to go up there and share really personal things.”
Slade Gormus, a registered nurse at the Student Health Center and founder of the UR Wellness Bandits, helped organize the event. As a longtime friend of Robbins’ boyfriend, Scott Slaughter, Gormus was able to put the event together with the help of the Bandits.
“There’s so many people who have stories to tell on this campus, and we want them to feel comfortable sharing them,” Gormus said. “I was very pleased with the turnout tonight. It was just very touching that people were able to stand up and tell their story in their own way.”
Robbins also became visibly emotional when discussing the recent acts of racism that had occured on UR’s campus.
“I hope you were shocked by this act,” Robbins said. “But more than that, I hope you were outraged, outraged enough to add your voice to the conversations that I understand are already going on around campus.
“I hope you are outraged enough to make a difference.”
Robbins hoped that the students could come away from the event realizing that no one was alone.
“If you are going through something, there is a really good chance that someone in this room is experiencing the same thing, too,” she said.
Contact contributor Ryan Harford at email@example.com.