The 2018 feature-length documentary “Personal Statement” told the stories of three Brooklyn high school seniors as they tried to navigate the college application process and struggled to get themselves and their peers into college.

The documentary, nominated for an Emmy and garnered accolades and positive reviews from publications across the U.S., underscored the power of students’ personal stories to expose the barriers that students, particularly lower-income and structurally disadvantaged students, face: the labyrinthine applications and financial aid processes, and the lack of guidance at many high schools. It also highlighted the power of those students’ stories to normalize for their peers the struggle and doubt, but also to celebrate moments of triumph.

The group that created the documentary partnered with Get Schooled, a national nonprofit based in New York, to create the #WeBelongIInCollege campaign and to continue the storytelling project that “Personal Statement” started. The first round of the campaign received hundreds of submissions from students across the country.

Weekend Challenge

This year, Get Schooled partnered with the Student Experience Project (SEP), a partnership between the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), the College Transition Collaborative (CTC), the Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS), Education Counsel and a cohort of six partner institutions, including the University of New Mexico, that is funded by the Raikes Foundation.

Together, the partner institutions are exploring the ways in which psychological factors influence student success, persistence and degree completion. The work is supported by a body of research that shows that students who experience a sense of belonging and support are more likely to persist through academic challenges and complete their degrees. SEP institutions are committed to building community and a sense of belonging on campus to support equitable learning environments where all students are supported to succeed.

The six college campus communities include The University of New Mexico, Colorado State University, CU Denver, Portland State University, UNC Charlotte, and the University of Toledo. These schools and their national partners are focused on improving students’ sense of belonging and Get Schooled has created a special opportunity for students from those campuses by designating twenty $1,000 scholarships for their submissions. 

And this weekend, Friday through Sunday, Nov. 13-15, students who submit a video will also receive a $50 gift card from Get Schooled. UNM students who submit a video story to the SEP - #WeBelongInCollege webpage by Nov. 30 are eligible for one of those 20 scholarships.

Those who have seen the documentary or the #WBIC stories likely can attest to their emotional power. More than that, research has shown that both students who see the stories and those who create them stand to benefit. Students who share their stories show that struggle is common and not an indication that someone does not belong in college. Studies have also shown that when students are asked to give advice, their own outcomes improve.

The campaign also aims to shift the public narrative about who belongs in college, and to inform decision-makers about the student experience at a critical time for higher education and social equity.

Scholarships will be announced by Dec. 18.