Senior Orlando Leon walks around Ithaca College, a black Canon Rebel camera hanging by a thick, black strap around his neck. He walks at a leisurely pace as his eyes scour the campus grounds in search of a new person to meet with an unheard story. Leon continues walking down the paved walkways, stopping when he waves hello to a student relaxing comfortably on a bench a little ways away, the friendly gesture an invitation to initiate a conversation.
He approaches senior Kamara Williams with a cheery hello, followed by, “May I take your picture? It’s for Humans of IC.” She responds with a shy smile and timid head nod, and Leon proceeds, first asking her a series of questions and then taking several photographs of her.
Leon has grown accustomed to encounters such as these, as they are part of his daily job as the photographer and content producer for Humans of IC. A newly launched Facebook page inspired by the famous Humans of New York page, the photographs and stories showcased on Humans of IC provide a closer, more personalized snapshot of the members of the college’s diverse student body. The page’s description, “Every Ithacan has a story to tell,” is manifested in the various quotes accompanied with a photograph of each person Leon meets.
A fan of HONY himself, Leon said the idea for Humans of IC grew out of a group project he worked on this semester for the class Designing Social Media. The assignment asked students to create a community-based social media campaign, resulting in the birth of Humans of IC. Leon’s interest in photography, supplemented by the techniques he has been learning in his Intro to Photography course, motivated him to continue the project and bring it out of its academic setting.
“As we were creating the content, I felt that it should be bigger than just a class project and I actually enjoyed talking to people and photographing people, and so I just decided to keep it going,” he said. “I’m still doing it because I like it and I’m just a social person, so I have general interest in just talking to random people. It’s easy for me.”
Leon said he often looks for any and all types of students when searching for potential subjects to photograph, a sentiment reflected in the diversity of people and stories presented through the Facebook page.
“The whole goal is to learn about other students you may not know,” he said. “Even though it is a small school, I feel like we don’t know each other. We might see each other in the hallways, but no one really has time or the courage to speak to one another randomly. So by this, Humans of IC, I feel like it’s providing a little insight.”
Freshman Hannah Morris, who was featured on Humans of IC at the beginning of April, said she enjoys the page for its positivity in sharing the different perspectives of the college’s campus and students.
“There’s just so many people, and people tend to stay to their own friend groups and really not expand,” she said. “I thought it was interesting to get a little Snapchat of somebody’s story. And you don’t really get that very often, especially when you’re so stressed and overworked, you don’t really take time to get to know people and to hear their stories, and I think that’s one of the most interesting parts of college … I thought that it was cool to see the honesty in people and how genuine people are.”
Although Leon is often a stranger to the students he meets for the first time, they remain open to conversing and sharing their stories with him, an aspect Williams found unique. She said she knew about the page before Leon approached her, and sees it as an avenue to increase student-to-student relations.
“I think it’s great because I think it humanizes IC,” she said. “I think the page is great because it makes the campus seem more connected and you get bits of someone’s personal life or personal thoughts you never had access to before.”
Officially launched at the beginning of the month, Humans of IC has seen a significant increase in its supporters, already gaining over 650 likes on its Facebook page. As Leon continues to walk around campus with his camera around his neck, he remains open to meeting new people and hearing new stories, hoping the Humans of IC page can cultivate a more interactive and connected campus environment.
“People are very open to conversing, so I feel like people should just go out there and talk to anyone,” he said. “And that’s what we’re hoping to do with this project: Get people to start talking to one another rather than just like saying the basic ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ or ‘hey’ — it should go beyond that and people should get to know each other.”