'We're All Chester'
Widener student Rebecca Westrom learns from a People of Chester anthropology project that every person and every community has a story to share.
- College of Arts and Sciences
By Rebecca Westrom '21
Every person and every community has a story to share – if you take the time to listen. That’s what I learned when I started listening to my neighbors and community as part of the People of Chester Project at Widener University.
Inspired by the popular Humans of New York photoblog, Professor Chelsea Abbas tasks students in her introductory anthropology course with going outside the classroom to interview and photograph people in Chester.
The students practice the basics of anthropology, including interview skills and engaging in their community. But, what they also learn is that listening is powerful; it can break down misleading stereotypes and pay homage to the diversity and vibrancy of any community.
As part of Widener’s Summer Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities program, I worked alongside Professor Abbas to catalog the hundreds of stories of Chester residents collected by students from her classes. We then shared them with the campus community at a symposium event during the fall semester. It was a powerful display that introduced so many in the university community to the people who are our neighbors.
Over and over, I was struck by the fact that even though we as students often come from other cities and states, we share a lot in common with Chester residents. Their stories are similar to our stories; they touch on the highs of life, such as family bonds and special occasions, and the lows of life, such as addiction, financial troubles, and the death of loved ones. This benefits us all, because stories bring us together.
My sister Jacqueline, who also participated in the project as a freshman, and I saw firsthand the vibrancy of the Chester community.
For example, as I was working on this project, I read an interview a student did with Rick Wilcox, the owner of Phatso’s Bakery. I was inspired by the story of a small business owner opening early every morning to create treats that are widely enjoyed in Chester. I wanted to experience it and headed to the bakery with my friends. We were too late for the morning round of fresh doughnuts, but Rick gave us free croissants and invited us to visit again.
These interactions are what make Chester feel like home. I can’t get enough of meeting new people and learning about their backgrounds. As I embark on a career as a human rights lawyer, these experiences have taught me everyone has a story, and you need to ask people about theirs to really begin to know and understand them.
The Widener community has a saying ‘We’re All Widener’ to show support for diversity and inclusion on our campus. This project has shown me that ‘We’re All Chester’ too.