Listen to the story below.
By Cheyenne Haslett
University of Connecticut sophomore Megan Sulpizi went back and forth on her decision for weeks before finally deciding to share her story on “Humans of UConn.”
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. You’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable situation, which is very difficult to do,” Sulpizi said.
Her story begins, “The bravest thing I have ever done was continuing my life when I wanted to end it.”
And now, through “Humans of UConn,” she has shared it with more than 8,500 people.
“Humans of UConn,” a growing social media campaign inspired by a well-known blog and media presence called Humans of New York, has amassed more than 350 stories ranging in content from harrowing obstacles and awkward quips to comical tales. All of the stories are told by students on UConn’s campus.
“I want other people to feel like they can share their stories, and I feel like if I can’t do it I can’t ask other people to do it,” said Sulpizi.
Three students, sophomore Meha Sadana, junior Fritz Bacon, and sophomore Chris Stumper, run the page. Each week, they wander around campus and take photos of students who pique their curiosity. Then, they post photos of the students alongside a snippet from their conversation.
Sadana, Fritz, and Stumper are a mixed bunch with a range of photography experience and interviewing skills, but they follow the same tenets, set forth by the page’s founder, recent UConn graduate Jay Lin, in 2014.
Lin knows it’s not expert photography or a professional interview skill set that gives “Humans of UConn” its edge.
The page is about “the curiosity to explore the stories of those around you, and the compassion to listen to the stories and share them in the way that they were meant to be told,” Lin said.
The posts don’t include any introductions to the quotes or attributions to the people who say them. The sole focus is the story behind the photograph.
One student tells a tale of male modeling gone wrong.
“When I worked at Newbury Comics, they asked me to model their clothing. I thought they would just use the photos on their website, but they put them all over the store I worked at. I ended up having 6-foot posters of myself in my own store that I had to look at while I worked…it got weird.”
The post is paired with a photo of a smiling young man in tortoise glasses.
Another story tells of immigration.
“One of my favorite memories back in Ghana were those school days during the rainy season, those mornings where you wake up at 6 a.m. and it’s raining so heavily you pray to God that it keeps raining this way until your parents go to work and leave you home because a lot of the teachers in primary school then don’t show up anyway.”
It’s paired with a photo of a smiling student, his arms crossed in front of him.
Some posts are funny while others drop the humor to share somber, character-building stories.
“We try to appeal to a wide range of people,” said Sadana.
To get the stories, each photographer uses their own tricks and methods. Bacon likes to start with a story, like a childhood memory or an ideology.
Sadana picks up on people who are alone or chatting comfortably with friends. “That’s when I get the most interesting and intimate stories,” she said.
Stumper looks to reflect the student’s personality, often working with people he already knows. “I like to post something that really reflects the person and if I know their personality, it’s so much easier to do that,” he said.
They take different paths to get there, but all three agree on the goal. They share the stories of UConn to humanize the thousands of students walking around campus — hence the name.
Through their posts, “the faces become a lot more familiar at UConn, and it starts to feel a little bit smaller,” Bacon said.
The photographers engage with people they wouldn’t get to know otherwise and they hope the stories they share do the same for their audience, said Stumper.
For Sulpizi, sharing her story did just that. “I’ve had people who have recognized me walking around campus and I’ve had somebody come up and talk to me,” she said.
The student thanked Sulpizi for sharing her story, telling her it was very powerful. “That was very rewarding to me because I guess it kind of reassured the goal of posting my story,” she said.
“It’s extremely scary, but I think in the long run, I’m extremely happy that I [shared it] and not only did I benefit other people, but it benefitted me as well,” Sulpizi said.
For Stumper, who photographed Sulpizi and published the post, the feedback has shown him the power of Humans of UConn.
“[Her] story can reach a lot of people who are suffering from either mental illness or any sort of issue on their own. If they can relate to it, that’s just incredible to see that, and to see the positive feedback on important issues,” he said.
Sulpizi’s post was the 22nd Humans of UConn post this semester.
With a goal of three to four posts per week, the Humans of UConn photographers aim to continue sharing stories that “give people a voice who might not normally have one,” Stumper said.
“Everyone grew up differently than you did. It’s awesome finding a good [story] and you just know ‘I can’t wait to share this with people, they’re gonna love it.’ That’s probably the best feeling,” Bacon said.