The Power of Storytelling

I’ve long been interested in the complicated processes of crossing class barriers, especially when that crossing is navigated through success in school.  With British sociologist Diane Reay, I believe that we learn a great deal about class when we learn more about the experiences of “the ones who got away”.

One way to learn more about these experiences is to invite people to tell their stories. I was privileged this past summer to work with a group faculty, staff, and students on my campus (the University of Washington Bothell) on creating digital stories of being first generation college students. Fifty percent of incoming students on our campus are first-generation students, and in creating these stories, we were committed to opening conversations about ways that the campus can support those new to the cultures of college.

For three days, we workshopped the written scripts, sorted through old photos that had long been hidden away, and then worked intensely to bring all of these elements together into the digital stories that you can view below.

The stories were shown at a public event on campus, followed by rich discussion among a panel of the storytellers and the audience. The stories were then also featured on the front page of our campus website for several weeks.

Julie Lindquist has written that while we speak about class as a system of structural inequalities, we experience class in our daily lives as a deeply emotional level. After we showed one another our stories at the end of the three-day the workshop, we spoke of overcoming complex feelings of vulnerability and shame to realize our inner strengths and resilience.

The director of the Center for Digital Storytelling, Joe Lambert, says that in creating digital stories, we come to first explain our distinctive identities to ourselves, and then to others. This was a powerful three days for all of us, and we invite you to listen to our stories.

Below is just one of the incredibly moving stories. Check out the rest here.

Belonging from UWB First in our Families on Vimeo.

Are you interested in bringing a First Generation College Student Storytelling Workshop to your campus? Email us for more info.


Jane Van Galen, a first –generation college student, is Professor of Education at the University of Washington Bothell. Her work focuses on social class, education, social mobility, and teacher education. She also  teaches courses on Digital Storytelling and other forms of digital media.



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