At Pitt, with its nearly 20,000 undergraduate students, it can be hard for incoming students to find their footing in the masses. Humans of Pitt was a club on campus that told the stories of the individuals within those masses — until it took an unexpected hiatus last year.
Humans of Pitt was created by Anish Kumar and Sarah Thornton in 2014 as a photoblog in which photojournalists took pictures of strangers on campus after interviewing them about their lives. These posts went up on the group’s Facebook page, where from 2014 to 2017 they gained popularity online with the Pitt community., gaining their current 9,780 followers.
Based off of the famous Humans of New York photoblog created by Brandon Stanton, HOP went on hiatus from 2018 to 2019. But now, thanks to seniors Albert Tanjaya and Sareena Fayaz, the new co-presidents of the organization, it’s making a comeback.
Tanjaya and Fayaz started their year by looking for fresh faces for the organization, including new photographers, administrators and initiatives to help get HOP back on its feet.
HOP will be partnering with Pitt Marketing as well as the Pitt Grit campaign, the University’s offensive against mental health stigma, this month. Tanajaya hopes to create a broader perspective about mental health on campus through the photos and interviews chosen for the blog.
“For October we’ll be focusing a lot of our photos and features on mental health, whether it’s yours, perspectives on it, or just a general comment on it especially on college campuses,” he said.
The co-presidents want to start the year off strong, as it was a tough time for the organization last year. During their sophomore year, the team consisted of only about four or five people, and when the seniors’ graduation came, only Fayaz and Tanjaya were left to carry on the club their junior year, leading to the yearlong hiatus.
Tanjaya said that their progress was impeded by poor communication and a lack of membership, especially since, according to Fayaz and Tanjaya, one of HOP’s goals is to display the strength of the Pitt community.
It was a must for the co-presidents to bring the club back before they graduated themselves, but that was not their only objective. HOP provides working experience for incoming students interested in photography or improving their management skills.
For Fayaz, HOP provided job opportunities for her as early as her first year on campus. By photographing and interviewing people for the organization, she made new connections to the photography community in Pittsburgh. To this day, she retains this network and said it would be a shame if any incoming first-years missed out on the opportunity she was given.
“I got a lot of photography gigs through people I had actually interviewed … I still have those contacts and those connections,” she said. “Humans of Pitt has always been a part of that, and it would be sad if other people didn’t have that same opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, get a new perspective.”
Luckily for the co-presidents, they had plenty of eager applicants for the new year, each one with a different perspective to bring. All of the new members joined together for their first meeting on Friday, Oct. 11 — where Tanjaya and Fayaz were eager to get the process going.
“We’re going to take today to familiarize everyone with the process and then take this week to find these postings. Once the first submission comes in, we really just want to roll it out and just make everyone aware that we’re back,” Tanjaya said.
Daniel Pomper, a senior communications major who is new to the club, said that he hopes HOP tackles more varied issues this year and implements new perspectives in each of the monthly themes.
“I’m really looking forward to a more multifaceted perspective on Pitt because I think there’s a lot of complex issues going on at the institutional level as well as the student [level],” he said. “I’m hoping we get to show every side of these issues.”
Both Tanjaya and Fayaz are determined to prevent another gap year from occurring, especially with this year being their last at Pitt. Their strategy to keep the club going after their graduation this year is to reinforce relationships by having consistent meetings and open communication with one another.
They’re even kicking around the idea of starting a photography collective within the club or a group outing that would serve as both a recreational activity and a chance to sharpen members’ skills. Photography, Fayaz said, for many of the club members, is the thread that links them all together.
“It’s going to be a Humans of Pitt collective. A lot of us [are] really passionate about photography. It’s one of our hobbies and with school and everything else in life, you get caught up and you don’t really get a chance to do it,” she said.
One of HOP’s objectives is to create and showcase a friendly campus community. Fayaz said she understands how overwhelming the amount of people at Pitt can be, which can lead to students feeling isolated. She hopes that HOP’s posts will help make someone feel less alone.
“We just want to create a greater sense of community in Pittsburgh and at Pitt. Just because there’s thousands of students here … it’s easy amongst the seas of people to feel like you don’t relate to anyone and that you’re alone,” she said. “So, maybe one of these posts will resonate with you.”
Pittsburgh’s residents have plenty of life experience to share, and according to Tanajaya, HOP is one of the ways in which these experiences can be heard. For him, it’s a new version of storytelling and a part of HOP’s mission statement, which is to get out there and speak your truth.
“We believe that everyone has got a story to them that you can’t really tell from looking at them. You have to talk to them and figure out what it is,” he said. “It’s humanity’s oldest hobby, sharing stories.”