By Leah Boucher – Staff Reporter
Mitchell Walston is the man behind the lens of Humans of UMF, a Facebook page created early this fall that showcases pictures of UMF community members and tells their personal stories.
Walston, a senior Secondary Education Biology major, recently discovered his love of photography and was inspired by the Humans of New York Facebook page, where photographer Brandon Stanton chooses random people on the streets of New York to interview.
“I’ve always liked the Humans of New York series because it’s a great way to share stories through pictures as well as quotes,” said Walston. “I’ve gotten more into photography within this past year, so I put those two ideas together to form Humans of UMF in the beginning of October.”
At first, Walston only asked his friends to participate in order to get a feel for how to conduct interviews and take pictures. Now, he is reaching out to students he sees on campus that he may not know to allow for a diverse range of personal narratives in his project.
“Everybody’s got a story and a life that’s complex and interesting once we take the time to ask,” said Walston, “but that’s not something we think about often because we’re all so focused on ourselves.”
Sage van Eekhout, a junior Secondary Education Social Studies major who was interviewed by Walston in the beginning of his project, knows that the diversity Walston is trying to capture on campus is what makes it unique.
“Everyone brings their own story and experiences with them,” said van Eekhout. “It’s a great way to celebrate our differences while still showing we’re a community.”
Humans of UMF was recently asked to partner with TRIO and Upward Bound to celebrate the stories of first-generation college students, but Walston hopes that other organizations and clubs will ask to partner with him as well.
“I love that the UMF community wants to collaborate with Humans of UMF,” he said. “It reaffirms for me that people are interested in reading what I am putting out on social media; I already have about 400 followers on the Facebook page.”
Jasmine Athamni, a sophomore Early Childhood Education major, did not know Mitchell well when he asked her to participate, but she shared personal details from her life in an effort to let others know that previous obstacles and struggles can be left behind.
“I felt like joining Humans of UMF was a big way for me to feel comfortable with my past and remind me that I’m a better person now.” said Athamni. “I shared in my interview that I struggled adjusting to UMF, and I’m sure there are others who will read my story and know that sometimes, it just takes time to adjust.”
Although Walston is a senior and will be leaving next May to pursue a career in teaching, he hopes to make photography a summer job when he is not in the classroom. “This project has allowed me to get better with my communication and especially photography skills,” he said, “and if I continue this project through the rest of the year, I think I can look back to where I started and see major growth.”
He also hopes that after he leaves, another UMF student will be willing to step up and take over Humans of UMF. “My goal before I graduate is that I can find someone who is willing to commit their time to this project,” said Walston.” It’s not difficult to gather the interviews and pictures, but it can be time consuming, and I want it to continue long after I leave.”