As social distancing has condemned everyone onto screens and into the bleak cells of Zoom, many feel less connected than ever before. With no accidental run-ins at dining halls or chit-chat in between classes, the loss of community is deeply felt.
Michelle Lum HM ’23 is trying to change that.
Lum runs Humans of Mudd, a photo and interview-based project which features members of the Harvey Mudd College community and excerpts from interviews as captions on Instagram and Facebook. The account’s style and name are an homage to the viral Humans of New York page, a photoblog based in New York City.
According to Lum, the idea for the Instagram page first came about while working for the Mudd student newspaper, The Muddraker. She was focusing on ways to publish material more often.
“I thought maybe we could do a Humans of New York-style page. That’s how Humans of Mudd first popped into my brain,” she said.
At that point, though, Lum didn’t think she would be running the account herself. The idea was only that — an idea. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that she was actually inspired to start the account.
The spark came after a chance conversation with a dining hall staff member during brunch.
“One Sunday I was going to do some work and eat alone at brunch in the dining hall and a dining hall worker sat down with me and started talking to me,” Lum said. “After that I realized, ‘Oh I really do want to do Humans of Mudd [myself],’ so that I can talk to more people and share their stories with the wider community, whether that is Mudd or the 5Cs, whoever happens to come along on the page.”
Lum acknowledged that despite the small size of HMC and the 5Cs, it’s impossible to meet every student and staff member. Humans of Mudd is a step toward filling those gaps.
“One of my main goals was to spark more conversations amongst people at Mudd or in the community,” Lum said. “I wanted people to read these quotes from people and to learn more about people that they might not talk to otherwise.”
Since then, Humans of Mudd has featured several Harvey Mudd College community members on their website and social media platforms. The interviewed students and staff discussed their hobbies and passions as the number of followers mounted.
“I’d say [Humans of Mudd] gives an idea of what Mudders are really like in a way that not even other Mudders can see,” said Devon Overbey HM ’23, who follows the Instagram account. “It gives them a chance to have some empathy and compassion for each other and be more willing to understand what’s going on, why they are interacting the way they are.”
Since the announcement that classes would move online was made, the account has pivoted its content to shine a light on student feelings related to the coronavirus and the abrupt end to the on-campus semester.
“I did a lot of interviews with people about how that was affecting them and what they thought about it,” Lum said. “I really enjoyed those because, even though it was a tough time, I [felt that] it was important to document how people were feeling.”
Followers of the account have found solace in Lum’s posts, as they not only share some familiar faces, but also have become a valuable archive of students’ varied experiences with social distancing and virtual learning.
“I knew I would miss [our student community] … but I didn’t realize how much I would miss it,” Gabriella Teodoro HM ’21 said. “Especially because the more recent posts have been about the coronavirus, I think it’s a good perspective of how diverse our community is.”
Teodoro noted that Humans of Mudd is a valuable record of life during a pandemic, but said the virtual closeness is what hits home the most.
“[The account] puts a really important perspective on [daily life] … and makes you feel a little closer to the people you are not seeing every day anymore.”
Overbey agreed, saying that just having that digital check-in with other Mudd students is reassuring.
“We don’t have a lot of Zoom classes, most are recorded,” he said. “[So] it’s nice to hear what [people] are saying and see their face paired with that.”
In a time of disruption, students are doing what they can to stay together.
“I feel like coronavirus is forcing us to think of ourselves more as a society and think of others more, I hope they will continue to do that,” Lum said. “Hopefully Humans of Mudd will continue to be something nice for our community as well.”
Any members of the Harvey Mudd community wishing to be interviewed can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Lum is a TSL opinions writer.