I am a 21 year old white American from a middle-class family. I have experienced times of plenty and times of hardship growing up. I have faced the divorce of my parents and isolation from my peers. I have had thoughts to the point of ending my own life.
I have also had the pleasure of receiving and giving love. The reward of friendship and family. I am not extraordinary. I am not even ordinary.
What I am is a single person on a planet filled with billions of unique people who possess their own individual identities. No two people are alike and we all struggle with something:
The girl who can’t stop cutting because she wants to feel something other than nothing…
The boy who tries his hardest to fit in and so he takes to drinking, drugs, and things he may never have dreamed of just to find acceptance…
The people who don’t share the same skin color of the majority and so they are discriminated against…
The woman who is stuck in an abusive relationship she can’t break free from because where else can she go?
The couple who experienced the loss of their unborn child…
The girl who got pregnant right out of high school and then that becomes her label…
So much injustice occurs in this world that barely anyone takes the time to notice, let alone speak up about it. As a soon-to-be Human Services Professional this disappoints me. As a fellow human-being, my heart is breaking as I type these words.
I recently had the pleasure to interview the creator of ‘Humans of Towson University’ to discuss what gives her the motivation to stand up. Her mission, according to the ‘Humans of TU’ Facebook page, is to “make the world a more understanding place, bring together the Towson community, and offer a safe place for students to share their stories.” My hope is that her words will inspire you to want the same.
Q: What made you start ‘The Humans of TU’? Where did you get your inspiration?
A: I started Humans of Towson University primarily because I was inspired by Humans of New York. I love the city because of how diverse it is. There is a word called “sonder” which is the realization that every passerby has a story.
As a kid, my mom always told me not to talk to strangers and here I am…talking to strangers. But for a good cause! Ha ha. I feel that I can say I have a great amount of empathy because I have gone through a lot in my life and try to be as understanding as possible. Coming to Towson, I realized that people were my passion and I was going to focus on highlighting that we should all be conscious of those around us.
Q: From what you post, you highlight a lot different people going through different walks of life. What are some common things you see that students are struggling with?
A: The most common thing that comes up in an interview is that many college students deal or have dealt with a form of mental illness. As someone who also suffers from it, I have always wanted to end the stigma and open the conversation about it in the most respective manner.
There are obviously limits on what is appropriate but when thousands of students see that other students go through it, it makes someone feel less alone. Mental illness should be a topic of discussion that can be talked about outside of the doctor’s office. If you feel triggered or sad for no reason, that person shouldn’t have to feel afraid to share with any individual.
Q: How do you find the individuals you choose to highlight?
A: I have multiple methods when it comes to finding people to highlight. The traditional one is walking around campus and going up to a random student sitting alone. Some people email me which I have displayed on all sites if anyone ever wants to reach out to me and they tell me, “Hey, I’m interested in sharing my story!” The last method could be if I see someone extraordinary or unique on social media, I will contact them myself and ask if they would like to be on the page.
Q: Hearing all of these stories must be difficult at times. What motivates you to keep going with it? Obviously there is no personal gain for you in continuing on.
A: From the start, my friend had told me it doesn’t matter how many followers my page has….if I keep doing it for me and for the Towson community, my passion will shine through. Personally, talking to different people every single week is soul searching for me. Speaking to people from different backgrounds is how you truly see the world. It helps you understand why people do the things they do and say the things they say.
I have a motto for myself that if I am not mentally well, I won’t do interviews because I want to be at my best. That’s why I had a slow start this semester but I’m looking forward to sharing what I have for the rest of the month! Also, multiple people have told me how much they look forward to reading the stories each week and how much it positively impacts them.
The enthusiasm and support alone is enough to keep me going for the rest of my life. I never wanted to make it about who was behind the camera. There are 22,000 students on this campus, my goal is to be the microphone for those all and show everyone that they have a voice.
Q: In closing, what advice do you have for those out there struggling?
A: My advice is that as individualized as your story is…remember this one thing: there is at least one person willing to listen to you. Whether that person can be me or someone in your class, talk it out. Please reach out to others. There should be at least one person in your life that knows your goals and your failures. For me, that person is my roommate. The power of story brings people together. Good news and bad news brings people together.
Do not give up now. Life is tough, but you are tougher.
I loved this last quote so much I made it the title. I want you to know that you are valuable. You are loved. This remains true no matter where you are or where you have been. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
I hope you learned something new this week Tigers! Don’t forget to follow ‘Humans of Towson University’ on Facebook (http://facebook.com/humansoftowsonuniversity), Tumblr (humansoftowsonuniversity.tumblr.com), and Instagram (HUMANSOFTU).