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UMBC, one story at a time

As students, staff and faculty members at UMBC, we walk by hundreds of unique people on a daily basis. Unique people with unique worldviews, ethnicities, religions, talents and backgrounds. Unfortunately, most of us will never come to know all of these individuals that we pass by again and again. We may never truly recognize our fellow humans here at UMBC. Luckily, there is a growing Facebook page that seeks to accomplish just that.

Inspired by the popular Humans of New York site, Humans of UMBC attempts to delve into the individual lives of students, staff and faculty members here on campus. The Humans of UMBC page is run by only three students: Mabel Chua, a senior majoring in media and communications studies, Nicolas Deroin, a sophomore majoring in photography and cinematic arts, and the coordinator, Rafay Qureshi, a senior majoring in social work and health administration and public policy.

The page has racked up over one thousand likes on Facebook despite only being around since January 2014 and being on a small hiatus during October 2015. “My close friend, Bhuvana Bellala [computer science, ’15] and I would have many conversations regarding the popular page, known as Humans of New York and what we have learned through it,” Qureshi said, “as these conversations continued and we considered the fact that the same diversity we saw on the Humans of New York page is present among all communities, we decided to start the project for UMBC.”

This idea of harnessing the sheer diversity of UMBC is the main driving force of their project. “With all the diversity we see on campus, individual people and their specific experiences can teach us a lot about diversity. We started the project and run the page with the intention to learn from these experiences. By posting these conversations and portraits, we hope to bring the UMBC community along for the ride,” the three explained.

When asked why the page exists in the first place and what their goals are, the three collectively answered, “we run the Humans of UMBC project with the intention to acknowledge, appreciate, and learn from the various experiences of students, staff and faculty at UMBC. Individuals in the UMBC community acknowledge the fact that we are a diverse school  it’s a fact that we are very proud of.”

One unique aspect about Humans of UMBC is how the three have decided their interviews with the individuals that they meet with. “We always start the conversation with, ‘tell me about yourself’ instead of asking specific questions. We want individuals to show themselves in the way that makes them feel most comfortable. Asking someone to tell us about themselves on their own terms is our way of allowing people to share their own perceptions of themselves, without any judgement or pressure.”

This special style of informal interview provides for a wide range of possible responses. “When we interview people for the page, we often get comments from many individuals such as, ‘I’m not really that deep,’ or, ‘I don’t have anything interesting to say.’ Others, however, are very willing to share and freely acknowledge the impact of a single, profound experience that led them to be the person they are today. This brings up the idea that people experience the significance of events in their lives differently, and that’s something to be acknowledged as it makes us different from one another.”

Despite leading a fairly young project, these three dedicated students are true to their craft and have high hopes for the continuation of Humans of UMBC. The three explained that “we hope to continue interviewing individuals and allow the Humans of UMBC page to continue to be a safe space for individuals to share their stories. Our goal is to provide a venue where individuals can share their story and create a culture of understanding to acknowledge the fact that everyone has experiences, struggles, successes and moments of weakness and strength that we can be aware of and grow from.”