The Power of Storytelling

“The shortest distance between two people is a story.” – Patti Digh

The power of storytelling has always intrigued me: how sharing stories can spark attention and connect us together. It’s through this connection of relating to one another that we can begin to care and take action.

One of my greatest passions is collaborating with and supporting the dreamers, risk takers, and path makers in sharing their inclusive higher education experiences. I believe when students with intellectual disability tell their stories, they become agents of change. By generously sharing their own successes and unique challenges, they become more than faceless statistics; they become powerful advocates. As Brené Brown describes in one of her TED talks, “stories are data with a soul.” When students are able to share their stories, they have the opportunity to inform legislators, higher education personnel, K-12 staff, parents, and prospective students about the many benefits of inclusive higher education. Their stories become powerful examples of their self-determination.

By harnessing the power of storytelling and emotion to captivate audiences, student stories can educate about inclusion in a meaningful way. As a member of Think College and as a former inclusive higher education program coordinator, I have directly experienced the power of storytelling and its ability to deeply reach many audiences. I have witnessed students who previously had been silent – or perhaps silenced – open up because the process of storytelling created a safe space where their voices could be heard and respected. Their experiences, transformations, and journeys have influenced legislators, conference attendees, college faculty, school committee members, adult service providers, families, and prospective students.

Connecting with Students

Over the last fifteen years, I have been inspired by so many students with powerful, positive messages of determination and perseverance; stories that reflect who they are as people and as learners. Their stories have changed hearts, minds, and policies by highlighting their inclusive higher education experiences.

Based on their personal and collaborative narratives, I have found the process of supporting storytelling to be an experience that can further deepen relationships between students and program staff as they learn more about each other. Encouraging students to write their stories straight from the heart presents opportunities for program staff to gather rich evidence of college experiences. When staff offer thoughtful prompts and guiding questions, students can reflect on their own experiences as learners and advocates for inclusive higher education. In the end, their stories become a great source of pride and a medium for future advocacy opportunities.

As I reflect on the power of our students’ stories and their insights, I think of Scott’s story, who has inspired other high school students with intellectual disability to attend college when they weren’t sure about going. In Allison’s story, she encourages students to “dream big”, and shares how college shaped her career through self-determination, course access, and the support of her faculty and mentors.

These are just two of the many stories you can find at Think College Stories, which features a wide collection of student experiences and college successes. Topics range from transition planning and goal setting, to self-determination, getting acclimated to college life, academics, work experience, residential life, and developing friendships. We hope you will take a peek and share!

So, before I go, do you have a good story to share?

Think College is always looking for great student stories. Has inclusive higher education had an impact on your students? Their families? Your college? Please consider submitting a story here.

Not sure how to get started? Check out our latest brief, Supporting Student Storytelling as a Form of Advocacy for Inclusive Postsecondary Education, for some tips.

About the post author:  Ty Hanson is an Inclusive Higher Education Specialist for the Think College National Coordinating Center. Ty has been active in developing and expanding inclusive higher education opportunities for the past 15 years. She is passionate about the power of storytelling, the importance of student voice, and the utilization of story-sharing to engage stakeholders and build community.