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December 23, 2020

Student Voices: College Promise #WeBelonginCollege Student Video Competition

#WeBelongInCollege is an interactive social media campaign that encourages students to share a story about a time when they struggled and questioned if they belonged, either while applying to or attending college. The campaign was developed as an extension of PERSONAL STATEMENT, a documentary profiling high school students who are committed to getting themselves and their peers accepted to college.

In this session, three students discussed the importance of the campaign and shared their stories about how they came to believe that they belong in college. Enoch Jemmott and Karoline Jimenez are student champions of #WeBelonginCollege and two of the students featured in the documentary film. Yashanda T. is a student winner of the #WeBelonginCollege video competition. Their conversation was facilitated by Albert Fujii, an advisor at College Promise.

The Importance of Student Voices

Enoch Jemmott says one of the most effective methods of this campaign is that it encourages students to use their voices. “Not only are students giving others helpful advice, but they're ultimately helping themselves, and that's what makes this campaign so remarkable, the fact that students can really understand that they're being a hero for someone out there,” said Enoch. “We all must understand that students need money to finish school, but they also need nurture as well, which is why this campaign acts as a support system for these students and a platform that amplifies their voices.”

Karoline Jimenez added, “I think that in order to create a change in the world right now, we need to become that change for ourselves. With the #WeBelonginCollege Campaign, we're not only offering students a $1,000 scholarship, we are offering students the opportunity to use their voices and to empower and inspire other young people to also use their voices and share their stories,” she said.

Karoline wants young people to understand that their voices matter, and they should be empowered to use them. “Even if their voices shake, even if they feel like people are not going to listen to their experiences, their stories matter and right now more than ever...Because at the end of the day, by sharing our stories, we are able to be there for somebody.”

Yahshanda T. agreed, saying, “I feel like this scholarship gives people the ability to share what they have to say without feeling judged because we've all been through what we're each going through. That just connects us and, it creates a deeper message than just money because money is nice, and material is nice, but when you have a connection or you have a sense of acceptance and fulfillment in this world, I feel like that is way more than money,” she concluded.

Advice for Leaders in Higher Education and Promise Programs

Yashanda wants leaders to know, first and foremost, that this generation is persistent. “We are going to go out there and create opportunities for ourselves because there are so many things out there that we can go out and grab...We have social media; we have libraries down the block; we have so many things that people before us didn't have. So being a part of this generation, a technology-based generation, I'm using every opportunity I have to change my future because, at the end of the day, I'm doing what makes me happy.”

Enoch wants leaders to know he’s very thankful for all of the diligent work that they do and for their persistence through barriers. But he wants them to understand how important it is to be there for students in every way possible because he sees many students being left to fall through the cracks. “It's not good for the mental health of the next generation, it's not good for the mental health of this current generation, and we're never going to be able to achieve that genuine reform. So I have to say -- believe in love, the youth, and prosperity, and you will realize how easy it is to achieve progression. And thank you again for all of your amazing work,” Enoch said.

Karoline agreed and highlighted that the solution to the struggles that young people are facing are young people. “That being said, they need to be given an opportunity, they need to be involved in the process of creating these policies. I think that right now more than ever, it is necessary to create some sort of a system that is supportive and that supports every kind of student. The numbers of students who are empowered and encouraged to share their stories, no matter how bad, no matter how sad it is, no matter how heartbreaking it might be for them, we need to be able to inspire them to keep doing that.”

She wants students to know that sharing their stories is something that we want them to keep doing for the betterment of society, for the betterment of our educational system, for the betterment of the world, and not just for the campaign. And she wants leaders to know that we need to create a system where students are empowered to use their voices, and they're not afraid.

Karoline says to students, “We also want to be able to let young people know that everything that they want is on the other side of fear, so keep striving, keep pushing yourself, and just know that every time that you encounter a struggle, every time that you're encountering a bad moment or you see that things are not happening the way that you want them to, take it from my own experience -- sometimes we end up where we need to be and not exactly where we want to be.”

This blog post is part of a series of recordings from the College Promise Careers Institute. In November 2020, College Promise held the virtual 3-day summit convening hundreds of our nation's leading practitioners, educators, employers, and thought leaders for sessions tackling the most complex challenges American workers face -- from the rise of artificial intelligence to the role free college plays in maintaining a competitive edge.

Want to learn about upcoming College Promise events? Sign up for our monthly newsletter, State of the Promise.

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