Through Our Lens: Humans of Santa Cruz

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Humans of New York is a photoblog that includes a collection of street portraits and interviews of the people of New York City. Photographer Brandon Stanton started the series in November 2010. The blog now has over 17 million followers on Facebook and approximately 8.7 million followers on Instagram. Having followed this blog for a long time, I was inspired to do something similar by talking to UC Santa Cruz students on campus.

Jamie Griffiths
He/him/his
Fourth-year
Cowell College

“So my sister is 4 years old and she’s in preschool right now. And she’s just figured out that if she doesn’t want to do something, if the teachers asked her to do something and she doesn’t want to do that, she can just ask for a timeout because she doesn’t have to do anything during timeout. 

My mom was telling me about that not so long ago, and it really rang well with me because I saw myself in that. I was like, ‘Wow, I have no doubt that this girl is my sister, because that’s exactly the same bullshit that I would pull if someone tried to tell me to do something when I was that age.’ 

And she started doing it at home a little bit more and my mom calls me and she’ll be frustrated like, ‘What am I supposed to do at that point? I got outsmarted by a 4-year-old.’ She’s definitely one of me. Every time I look at my sister and I hear about the shit that she’s pulling off, I think this is exactly the way I’d tackle the situation, it makes me so proud.”

Marielena Benavides
She/her/hers
Second-year
Cowell College

“One thing I’m very proud of within myself is that I became a mentor of a program [called] EOP Bridge. Basically, it means I help low-income first-generation minority students find resources here on campus, help them navigate their first year on campus and just be there for them. I was in this program last year, and it really changed my life because there was actually someone there for one hour who listened to me and who was always trying to help me. 

[…] I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives. We have 60 kids total in the program, but I have six kids. I talk to them every single week about random things in their lives, how things are going. I also help them with really deep issues that they may have or things that they don’t really know yet.

I forget sometimes that they look up to me, I’ll feel like ‘oh, they probably don’t even care,’ but then the other day, a student came up to me, we talked for a really long time. And she’s even told me, ‘I know it was really hard for me in the beginning to even open up to you, but now I feel really comfortable.’ I feel like that’s really good because at least she has someone to talk to. 

I wish there were more programs like this on campus because so many first years I know drop out, especially people of color, because they don’t feel like they belong, or because of other reasons. We try to do our best to help all of our students stay within the UC system. So, yeah, it’s really cool. I really love the program. And I hope what I do will help these kids in the future, even after college.”

Daren Bartolucci
He/him/his
First-year
Crown College

“Something I like to study in my off time is conspiracy theories. I don’t believe in them, but I’m kind of fascinated with the culture around it. It’s something that not a lot of people really look into, at least the culture of it. […] It’s a very interesting topic, although it’s also very rage-inducing when you kind of look into it because it’s a lot of anti-science stuff, a lot of anti-intellectual stuff. 

One website in particular, Reddit. The main conspiracy subreddit, r/conspiracy is kind of the worst. There’s a lot of actual racism, anti-semitism, homophobia and transphobia, basically massive amounts of bigotry. Because the one thing about conspiracy theories, the people that believe in them aren’t necessarily from marginalized groups, instead they feel that they themselves are marginalized in some form and that can take the form of bigotry. […] So the conspiracy subreddit is basically just filled with excuses to target  minorities. 

Not only that, but it also really dissuades people from talking about mental health in some ways. There’s another subreddit, r/gangstalking. Gang stalking is a conspiracy theory where people believe that they are watched or stalked by some sort of group whether it be the government or some sort of other thing. […] A lot of people try and point out, like, ‘Hey, these are the symptoms of schizophrenia or some other mental illness, you should probably get some help when it comes to that.’ But most of it is people trying to support each other with their ideas of gang stalking. Instead of actually getting help, they actually malign psychiatrists and all those people by thinking they’re part of the conspiracy.”

Jonathan Zau
He/him/his
First-year
Porter College

“Well, I just had a bio midterm. Actually, I just got out of that. And I spent a lot of time studying for it. I thought I was going to do badly. But I just kicked its ass really hard, which is always good. That’s always a good thing. But I’m a first-year, and this is only my second quarter. So I’m still kind of getting used to how everything works. 

But, a cool thing that I’m doing is I auditioned for the school plays this quarter. And it was really scary. It was really intimidating. You know, you walk into the theater, and there’s all these people looking at you. […] But yeah, it’s really fun. I’m in “The Most Popular Girls on Stage,” it’s a student written play down at the Barn. It’s a lot of work. And I didn’t know it’d be so much work. So I’m kind of swamped after signing up for this thing. But it’s still really fun. 

[Theater] gave me a lot of confidence in high school. It’s hard to talk to people, but then when you’re forced on a stage, it builds that ability to just speak your mind when everyone’s looking at you. It’s definitely shaped a lot of how I am today, being able to just talk to anyone.”