Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s popular photoblog Humans of New York (HONY), Humans of MIT is a blog-style portrait of life at MIT.
Its founders, Emad Taliep ’14 and Jenny Wu ’14, along with Abra H. Shen ’16, Lawrence M.K. Wong G, and a few other student photographers have been interviewing members of the MIT community, taking their pictures, and featuring their stories on the project’s Facebook page, Humans of MIT, since February of this year.
Similar projects have been taking root in college campuses across the country ever since the popularization of Stanton’s original blog. Humans of Rice University, Voices of UPenn, and Humans of Cornell, among others, emulate Stanton’s method of sharing narratives and portraits, each project focusing on the populations of their respective campuses.
There is also a Humans of Harvard page, but it is roughly matched in Facebook likes by the lightly satirical Squirrels of Harvard, which features photos of Harvard Yard’s squirrels accompanied by contrived HONY-esque witticisms.
According to the founders, the motivation behind establishing Humans of MIT has been to showcase the uniqueness of the individuals found on MIT’s campus, including students, faculty members, administrators, and staff. They cited their interest in the ongoing lives and challenges of peers seen every day walking through a hallway on campus, even those they did not personally know.
The founders also said they wanted to “break the stereotype” of the typical MIT student. As a result, most of the features forgo reporting the subject’s jobs, UROPS, and club involvement in favor of characterizing them in non-academic ways.
In the beginning, the majority of the subjects were friends of the original founders, but now the project has expanded to include impromptu interviews with people found on campus.
“No one turns it down,” said Wu. “Many people are flattered, but become modest when they are asked to be featured.” So far, the Humans of MIT team has interviewed and featured more than fifteen people on their Facebook page, and the number continues to grow.
According to the photographers, the most common response from those interviewed is, “I’m not very interesting.”
“It’s Imposter’s Syndrome,” commented Shen about those who attest to being unexciting.
Taliep said that it can take a few minutes before interviewees begin to open up and express themselves in non-academic terms. “I usually start by asking, ‘What’s new?’” he said. Although each interviewer has a regular set of questions they like to ask — such as “What do you do for fun?” or “How is your day going?” — the questions are usually spontaneous.
After people finish listing their clubs, majors, and academic interests, they eventually begin to feel comfortable talking more about their quirks and interests.
“You find out about things that people wouldn’t normally mention in an everyday conversation,” said Shen.
Lawrence added, “I am amazed at what people do here.”
Humans of MIT is affiliated with SMASH (Students at MIT Allied for Student Health), which is a group of organizations concerned with the general health of students on campus and includes groups such as MIT-Emergency Medical Services (MIT-EMS), Student Support Services (S^3), and MedLinks.
The founders of Humans of MIT said they feel that being able to share and read the stories posted on the Facebook page helps build a sense of camaraderie among the MIT student body and shows students that they are not alone. Many students respond with positive comments on the posts. “I enjoy seeing the amount of feedback on the Facebook page, the notifications, the likes,” said Taliep.
Although the administration is not directly involved with Humans of MIT and does not oversee its activities, those working on the project hope to acquire funding to potentially sponsor events in the future.