During a seemingly normal Monday afternoon on Oct.2, filled with scrolling through typical posts of the weekend’s activities, avid on- campus Instagrammers and Facebook users saw unusual, but strangely familiar content emerge on their feeds: Humans of USM. Ran by two senior Southern Miss students who wish to remain anonymous, the page’s goal is to share a mixture of quirky and heartwarming short stories told by USM’s diverse student body.
Both creators gained their inspiration from Brandon Stanton, the creator of widely-known and celebrated Humans of New York (HONY). Beginning in 2010, HONY began as a photography project with a goal of capturing 10 thousand colorful New Yorkers on the streets. Now, seven years later, Stanton has not only managed to include glimpses of New Yorkers’ lives with his captions, but also has gained 25 million followers on Instagram and Facebook combined by following New Yorkers as well as citizens from over 20 different countries.
After receiving a Canon during the Christmas of her junior year, the creator of Humans of USM periodically thought about producing the page. Desiring to invest in a solo project that could be passed down to another student after she graduates in May of 2018, she finally made her idea a reality in the beginning of October.
While most of HONY’s followers may not know Stanton’s name, they can easily find it with a Google search, something that the creator of Humans of USM never wants for herself. And although she claims about seven people know she is the creator, she trusts that select few in keeping her secret. Her reasoning for remaining anonymous is both selfless and logical.
She said, “The reason I choose to be anonymous is because this project isn’t about me. It’s about the people that are featured & their stories. I feel like being anonymous helps me focus on the bigger picture and allows me to fully pursue this project without there being any pressure on my choices and the decisions I make.”
But she is only one person. Taking a full-time load of college classes, living off-campus and working two jobs (one of which happens to be her own photography business) has proven to be challenging while attempting to reach more people for Humans of USM. Enlisting the help of a friend in hopes of covering more ground and “contributing to the diversity of who is featured on the page,” the creator recently added a second contributor onto the Humans of USM team.
Feeling inspired by Stanton’s work years ago, the contributor- like many of USM’s students says, she actually dreamt of putting Humans of USM into action first. However, like many of us who struggle to simply attend class, work, study, get enough sleep, call our mothers and remember to eat daily, “life got busy,” the contributor said, leaving the creator to create the pages herself. Despite that, both the creator and the contributor are able to showcase a variety of USM voices, crediting their passion and belief in the project as their main sources of motivation.
Though both are working towards approaching strangers with as much ease as Stanton, the difference in the creator and the contributor have worked towards that goal at different paces. The creator said, “I’ve started out interviewing people I know or who I’m familiar with just until I make it a habit of approaching strangers and learning to be intentional.” Though the creator’s method may seem unfair at a glance, her method aids in reaching a diverse group, for this helps her in “highlighting those who may not be that well known around campus.”
One of the creator’s friends happens to be senior paralegal studies major Alexis Le who was surprised when Humans of USM asked to schedule an interview with her. Sharing the story of visiting her ill and now deceased grandmother in Vietnam this past July, Le was initially afraid of the reactions she would receive from others, wondering if her story was “TOO personal.”
Le quickly changed her mind and asked the page to tag the USM chapter of Delta Gamma and USM’s Vietnamese Student Association. “. . .I told myself, it’s okay to tell a story like that because it may help others to become more open about situations that affected their life. I had asked them to tag DG and VSA because I have been involved in those two organizations since I became a student at USM. Those two organizations have influenced me to be my best self and gave me a lot of courage. I probably wouldn’t be able to tell that story without the strength my organizations see in me.”
The contributor, on the other hand, thrives while inquiring about the stories of strangers. “I get the most enjoyment from asking strangers. It sounds intimidating, but it really isn’t. Sometimes it’s more comforting to ask a stranger than a friend. I just look for something that we have in common to start the conversation. That could be me asking if I had them in a class or simply complimenting their outfit. I like to think that I have the confidence and social skills to talk to anyone about anything, so I ask open [ended] questions and the conversation flows from there.”
Like Humans of New York and all of the pages like it, Humans of USM features a variety of stories. Perhaps the most notable thing about Humans of USM is that the page identifies its interviewees with their name, major and classification.
When asked why that is, the creator said, “I wanted there to be opportunities for people to connect by providing people with the names, majors, & classifications of people we interview. Kind of like a common ground point of view to see where people are in their college journey.”
And the plan to provide connections seems to have worked. Underneath Le’s photo as well as underneath Jacob Harvell’s photo, their organizations (Delta Gamma and VSA for Le and the College of Business for Harvell) expressed words of encouragement and praise to their members in the comment sections.
However, for the contributor, it is important to remember that USM students are more than the petty, surface-level facts they share on the first day of school. “Because I know that at our core we are more than our major, career interests and goals. We are a collection of stories that are scratching at our throats to be heard,” the contributor said.
While Humans of USM is not the first page to attempt to recreate Stanton’s vision in a different location (e.g. Humans of LSU, Humans of Virginia Tech, Humans of Southeastern and People of JSU) the co-creators are perhaps the firsts to execute the idea on a Mississippi college campus.
Humans of USM currently has 130 Facebook likes (80 of which were gained during the first week) and 103 followers on Instagram after featuring eight (Alexander Rivera, Alex Rhoden, Jack Hoda, Rosey Lau, Jacob Harvell, Alexis Le, Kaitlyn Kendall and Franky Lopez) out of 14,000 USM students.
Find the Humans of USM pages by liking them on Facebook or following them on Instagram @HumansofUSM.