Student #1: It was like, the way people get into screenwriting is every screenwriting professor picks an application and has to fight for it. Um, and so every student has their “champion” who is the one who fought for them to get into this program, and then before you graduate they have to tell you who they are.
Student #2: I heard the same version Student #1 heard but I didn’t hear it freshman year. I heard it at Admitted Student Day back as a senior. And there was like this panel of like upperclassmen getting ready to graduate and they were doing this Q&A and then one of them brought up the champions and they basically said what Student #1 said, but then they also said that there was like a room somewhere that they go to specifically to do the applications each year, to read them, and before we graduate they’ll take us to that room and be like ‘oh this is where you were chosen’ or something like that.
Background: Student #1 and Student #2 are sophomore majors of the Writing for Screen and Television Program and USC School of Cinematic Arts. Although away from campus due to COVID-19, both of them were on campus and participating in its folklore the previous year. While Student #1 couldn’t remember where she heard the legend, she believed it was when she was on campus freshman year. Additionally, freshman year SCA students are assigned a “big”, an older student in the major who is meant to show them the ropes first semester, and are known to pass down lore to incoming students. As stated above, Student #2 heard it during Admitted Students Day.
Context: This piece was brought to my attention through a text message Student #2 sent, requesting that we meet to discuss “SCA” (School of Cinematic Arts) folklore. She casually mentioned “like the rumor of having champions and the secret room where they read our applications”. I had never heard that rumor, and ended up meeting with her and Student #1 (via Zoom) to discuss it, and share the folklore that I knew in return. Both students called the championing a “legend”, which means they are unsure about the “truthiness” of it. They both seemed inclined to believe it to be true, or at the very least hopeful that some professor wanted them there and was looking out for them.
Analysis: Championing is a Writing for Screen and Television major legend that serves as a way of making new members feel wanted in the community. People hear of championing either once they’ve been admitted to the school or when they first get there, a time that they are technically a member of the community even if it doesn’t feel that way yet. This liminality, accompanied by the fact that college in itself is a new scary space, has students looking for reasons to belong. Being told that they are special enough to fight for, and in fact, their membership is contingent on someone fighting for them, makes students feel more comfortable in the space, and induces a greater sense of validation and belonging. The legend of championing is accompanied by the knowledge (true or not) that it is not happenstance nor circumstance that led to their acceptance, but a completely intentional act. Additionally, many people are away from their parents for the first time once they attend college, and having a teacher “choosing” them inspires a greater sense of comfort as this can be analogized to their own relationships with mentors or other parental figures. It can also be interpreted as creating stronger bonds among the students themselves, as they are the “chosen” ones, specifically selected to be there when others were rejected. This “us vs. them” mentality creates a shared identity that can be used to inspire greater familiarity among new students, as well as students from older grades. As it is traditionally the older students who pass down this knowledge to the younger ones, the legend of championing can be used by older members to invite younger ones into the community. The addition of a “secret room” where the applications are read heightens the sensibility that the students are important and that the Writing for Screen and Television department itself is prestigious enough to warrant this kind of behavior, adding mystery to a process students are already familiar with, that of college admissions.