Using Collaborative Poetry to center student voices, create connection and celebrate diversity | NASW Member Voices

Apr 24, 2023

The word poetry made with wooden letters next to a pile of random letters

By Amber Sutton, PhD, LICSW

As part of a BSW diversity course at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama, I used a collaborative poetry exercise as a way to center the lived experiences of the students and to showcase how research can be creative and meaningful.

By lived experiences, I mean the personal responses they shared in having to think about and write about where they came from and the memories that have influenced them

I have previously written about the power of poetry and provided another example of how collaborative poetry can be an impactful tool in the social work classroom. Using a model of the I Am From activity by Ramona Beltrán,

`I had the students answer four prompts:

  • I am from
  • I am from (type of music)
  • I refuse
  • I am going

They provided individual responses and then taking all of the data, I created a collective poem using their exact words.

The students participated in member-checking and the following poem represents responses from each of the students and was written by Amber Sutton, Madalyn Barfield, Destinee Bates, Alexis Carter, Erika Clackley, DeAsia Floyd, Duntrey Heflin, Jamiya Hunter, Patrick Lackey, LaChina Potts, and Sierra Powell.


We are from…

The Earth; the tree of life.

from Montgomery, AL with a rich history;  the Civil Rights Movement, the Confederacy, and the Air Force.

from Wetumpka and Lanett.

From a small city where you have to know someone in order to make it.

Where everyone knows everyone and family is just right down the road,

with arms wide open.

Another small town.

A country town where you get looks for being out the ordinary.

A city of history and


A crawfish eating, sun beaming, festival lovin’ Southeast Louisiana.

A place of questions, bad choices, and

life-altering decisions.

We are from (type of music)…

Heavy metal

80’s rock and roll and a blossoming of K-Pop, American Pop.

Sweet loving R&B – soul

The Blues.

Saturday mornings cleaning house while India Arie, Jill Scott, and Patti LaBelle fill the rooms.

Groovy types of music that make your hips twist.

Zydeco swingin’, cajun swang, jigging groove

The type of music that makes you want to dance all night long and shake a tail feather with grandma!

A blend of every possible genre.

A place where meaning is everything and there is a willingness to try


We refuse…

Young woman during a demonstration in the street

To be defined by the things of the earth.

To be held to the standards of others.

To be another statistic

            someone who had the chance to be someone amazing and chose not to.

To be silenced.

Shut down.


To live an ordinary life where we’re just surviving and not living.

To be put in a box.

To be overlooked.

To be mediocre.

To think too hard about this.

To let others, determine our worth and importance.

To be anyone besides OURSELVES!

We are going…

To achieve everything and anything.

To allow ourselves room to heal…

            to heal our inner child.

To love without limits.

To take this world by storm.

To love ourselves for those who cannot.

To be brave.

To be courageous.

To be an ally.

To be a change maker.

We are going to a place where we are enough – even with flaws.

To places where we’ve always imagined going but wondered how’d we get there.

To a place where we can be ourselves all the time…100%.

We are going…


After reading their poem, students were excited and curious about how we could share this deeply reflective data. What started out as a version of “me-search” turned into “we-search.” This activity highlighted similarities and differences among the students, further strengthening their connection to one another and creating an empowered space where they witnessed firsthand the power of their contributions.

Disclaimer: The National Association of Social Workers invites members to share their expertise and experiences through Member Voices. This blog was prepared by Amber Sutton and her students in their personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the National Association of Social Workers.

About the Author

Amber Sutton is a licensed independent clinical social worker and an assistant professor of social work at Auburn University at Montgomery. Sutton’s research focuses on understanding the link between COVID-19, intimate partner violence, and intimate femicide for women in Alabama. Sutton’s other research interests include reproductive coercion, protections for pets, trauma-informed education and management, and rural communities.

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