How many strangers’ stories do you think you’ve accidentally made it into?
Maybe someone saw you in passing at a stoplight and later told their friends how pretty the girl in the lilac dress was. Or maybe they overheard a good joke you told and repeated it to someone else before confessing that they got it from some random guy at the store. Or maybe you’re captured in the background of the awkward touristy photograph a family laughs at every holiday gathering.
Often, while we’re busy living our own narratives as the protagonist and front-runner, we forget that others have their own stories as well.
So in an effort to remind us of that fact, Sathya Ram, ’16, has captured strangers’ stories as Humans of Lehigh for the last two years.
In a spinoff of Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York series, Sathya uses Humans of Lehigh as a platform for the unfiltered stories of Lehigh individuals. Every Wednesday at 3 p.m., Sathya posts a picture of someone from the Lehigh community with a corresponding quote. Although the page had already existed with fewer than 1,000 followers before Sathya took over, it has now amassed almost 2,500 followers.
“When I took over Humans of Lehigh, I really wanted it to be organic,” he said to me as we sat in Wilbur talking. “I give people free reign to talk about anything they want at all. They can curse or talk about obscene things, but most importantly, they don’t have to advertise Lehigh.”
As he explains it, his vision manifests itself in “raw, real and uncut” stories so not advertising Lehigh, in Sathya’s eyes, strips away another one of the potential filters participants may hide behind.
“It is a blessing and a curse though,” he said. “You can’t just go up to someone and ask for their life story. You have to get to know them and spend some time with them to really get somewhere. There’s so much more work that goes into it than people realize.”
But while he advocates for authenticity and transparency with his participants, anonymity became something that Sathya himself could hide behind.
When I first messaged Sathya on the Humans of Lehigh Facebook page, I had no idea what to expect. As fruitful discussions and attempted meeting planning began, I developed a correspondence with a faceless person who vaguely described himself as “5’10”, Indian and hard to miss.”
But after we finally met face-to-face and spoke for hours in Wilbur, I understood that this free-spirited, talkative, second-semester senior was really on a mission to perfect his craft. The design and studio art double major brought an outdated Facebook page back to life within a year and for the most part, he did it anonymously.
He became a nameless administrator in an effort to keep stories unbiased and to keep friends from directly asking to be featured but his decision to now be publicly named in this Day in the Life edition stems from that same desire for authenticity.
“People need to live life unfiltered,” he explained to me. “Being anonymous puts up this façade and taking that off just makes you realize that you don’t have to have it at all — and I’ve come to realize that people are pretty perceptive anyway.”
Humans of Lehigh does something special for this community by creating a space for individuals to connect on a platform based purely on a shared vulnerability.
Through Humans of Lehigh, members of the Lehigh community have spoken about their deep financial struggles, personal health conditions, hurtful family deaths, steadfast religious beliefs and simply varying views on life. Topics have been as unsystematic as becoming an ordained minister to descriptions of a werewolf’s lifestyle to laments over the absence of our Lehigh alumnus’ escalator invention on campus.
Participants choose to tell their story and people listen.
Whichever story is told always accumulates hundreds of likes and dozens of comments on Facebook. Sathya gives the credit for popular posts to one intrinsic reason — relatability.
“What Humans (of Lehigh) has done is open my eyes to the fact that there are people out there who have gone through the same thing you have and who are willing to talk about it,” Sathya said. “There are people on this campus (who) have legitimately been through every scenario in life, and I get the chance to talk to them to learn their story.”
Our stories are not isolated. We may identify ourselves with a few memories but overall, each story overlaps and interconnects with thousands of others through a fluid, ever-changing web of lives. Although you may be a stranger to someone, you can still share in that person’s story. You can still share in that vulnerability that everyone can relate to.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up sharing yours and becoming the next feature on Humans of Lehigh.
Nadine Elsayed, ’18, is a multimedia editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].