Unsent-The Letter Project bonds USC students over writing

Students wrote anonymous letters as an outlet to speak their personal truths.

By MELISSA GRIMALDO
person hangs a letter
Isabella Escalona, a senior majoring in narrative studies and the founder of Unsent- The Letter Project, wants to publish a book featuring collections of letters written by students who stopped by the event. Publishing a book is a dream Escalona has harbored since her childhood. (Emma Silverstein / Daily Trojan)

Booths around campus with letters clipped to their tents are part of Unsent – The Letter Project, an initiative that encourages students to pick up a piece of paper and write an anonymous letter to a person of their choosing. The letters are then displayed around the booth for other students to read and take inspiration from.

Isabella Escalona, a senior majoring in narrative studies and the founder of the project, found inspiration in her contemporary prose class last fall when reading the novel “Dear Memory” by Victoria Chang. 

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to say things they have always wanted to say but never could and to speak the truth of how they feel without being judged,” she said. 

Escalona called upon her friends to help with her new experiment and with positive results, she has now turned it into her own passion project.

“I hope it encourages people to really tap into their vulnerability,” Escalona said. “Oftentimes, especially in college when you’re so busy with clubs and classes, you forget to check in with yourself and you don’t really allow yourself that much space to be emotional and vulnerable.”

Penny Uampornavich, a freshman majoring in psychology, participated in the project by writing an anonymous letter to someone close to her. 

“It made me realize I do have a lot of repressed feelings inside,” Uampornavich said. “But it was a really therapeutic way to write something out physically, it’s a very encouraging activity.”

two people face a tent
Lyn Wee, a freshman majoring in astronomy, said the project made her think inwards for a minute and ignore the busy world around her. “It made me separate myself from the business of college life,” Wee said. “I just sat in a corner with my clipboard and had to become introspective.” (Emma Silverstein / Daily Trojan)

Watching over her booth, Escalona said that based on feedback she received from students, participants not only grow closer with themselves during the writing process, but also to those around them who they wouldn’t expect to hold such deep truths within themselves. 

Escalona intends to publish a book, a dream she has held since her childhood, with the collection of letters from the community. The book would be separated into chapter categories based on who the letters are addressed to, Escalona said.

“I get a lot of letters to family members, exes, current lovers, friends, teachers,” she said. “I have someone who wrote a letter [titled] ‘Dear my psychiatrist,’ the variety is super great.” 

Lynn Wee, a freshman majoring in astronomy, also found interest in the project and wrote a personal letter in a private area. 

“It made me separate myself from the business of college life,” Wee said. “I just sat in a corner with my clipboard and had to become introspective for a few minutes.” 

Wee did a similar project in high school and finds the idea of meaningful connections with strangers important. A letter may not be directed to anyone, Wee said, but it has the capability of giving a passing individual advice on their life they didn’t know they needed. 

“There’s 40,000 people on this campus, give or take, and all of them have such unique stories to tell,” Wee said. “It just makes you feel so small in such a big way, but not necessarily in a bad way.” 

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