UT club Students of the World promotes change through documentary film making

Cat Cardenas

A family caught in the crosshairs of immigration legislation and an Austin musician faced with hunger are just two of the subjects featured in the UT club Students of the World’s projects. 

Students of the World members meet each spring semester to collaborate and create projects that focus on certain social issues ranging from immigration to education. The club is part of a national chapter based in 15 colleges across the country. 

With hopes of setting themselves apart, the UT chapter plans to host a documentary film festival at the end of the semester. The festival will showcase members’ creations, in addition to submissions from non-members. 

This year, the club’s projects focus exclusively on the topic of gender. Hannah Whisenant, radio-television-film junior and president of UT’s chapter, said the creative aspect of the activist club drew her in during her freshman year. Though she was inexperienced with filmmaking, the club gave her the opportunity to create her first films. 

“I saw that I could create a personal connection between the subjects and viewers,” said Whisenant. “[Making a documentary] showed me that if you can find someone who the facts apply to, it creates a personal connection.”

Radio-television-film junior Christian Benavides is the club’s vice president. He said he believes Students of the World’s creative media impacts the viewer through establishing a personal connection. 

“Facts are key, but there are so many issues that are bigger than us,” Benavides said. “So narrowing those issues down and focusing on a family, a kid or a mom who is affected allows people to empathize and understand their side of the story.”

Though members chose their own topics in the past, this year the officers decided the group would focus on gender in today’s society. Psychology sophomore Steve Escamilla said he attended the club’s first meeting of the semester because he was interested in the idea of expressing himself while also engaging with an important topic. 

“We’re in the middle of a social movement right now,” Escamilla said. “Ideas that have never been challenged before are being challenged. Institutions are being challenged, [and] it’s forcing us to progress and think about things differently.”

For the first time in the group’s history, UT alumni will assist members with their projects. Whisenant believes the mentors, most of whom are former club members, will be able to relate to the students. The mentors, who are now in various creative fields, offer members their expertise on everything from documentary filmmaking to illustrating.

“A lot of us are still new at what we’re doing,” Benavides said. “But the mentors have been here before. We’re hoping to bring together the inexperienced with the experienced, and hopefully they’ll be able to learn a lot from each other.”

Whisenant has been a member of the club since its beginning at UT and has seen the club grow and change in the three years it’s been on campus. 

“We want to take big issues and make them more relatable,” Whisenant said. “By making these topics more personal, we can spread awareness. We want to encourage creativity with a social message behind it.”