Earlier this month, while scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, I chanced upon a photo of a friend of mine on the Cornell campus. The caption was a short but interesting conversation between the friend and a Facebook user called “Humans of Cornell University,” who had taken the photo. I was intrigued. Upon clicking the photo I discovered that there were dozens of other photos along the same theme, where apparently these “Humans of Cornell” (HOCU) people would randomly select a person they encountered at Cornell, take a photo of him or her, and ask a thought-provoking question, sometimes following the question up if the response merited more discussion.
I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this cool page before, until I saw that it was created in late January of this year. Eventually it became clear that the HOCU page was inspired by the Humans of New York (HONY) project that a photographer named Brandon started in 2010 to great success. Last week, the Cornell Chronicle featured an interview with Jenna Galbut, a philosophy major in her senior year in the College of Arts & Sciences who said she started HOCU to “give myself and other people the opportunity to connect to a stranger even for just a moment in ‘real’ life and then immortalize the captured moment on the Web.” You can read Kathy Hovis’ article for the Chronicle here.
Browsing HOCU and HONY is remarkably addicting. Both projects are set in locations where one can feel overwhelmed by the thousands (and millions) of strangers that one will never interact with other than to perhaps occasionally hold a door open for, or mildly exasperate by walking slowly on the sidewalk. But the well-crafted questions of Brandon and Jenna often elicit responses that are quite inspiring, and sometimes pretty eye-opening. Plenty of people, especially in the city, have been through unimaginably tough situations and are surprisingly willing to share some insights about their experience.
The HOCU Facebook page had around 2,700 Likes the first time I visited in early February, as far as I remember. Now it has about a thousand more, which is pretty impressive for a month-long effort. Part of the fun of HOCU for me is in recognizing faces of students, faculty, and staff that I’ve seen around campus over the past several years and learning just a little about these people who would otherwise have remained nameless strangers.
In the case of both HOCU and HONY — and I should mention that there are plenty of other spin-off projects around the country and probably the world — it’s just great to get exposure to so many mindsets and backgrounds in a way that makes me want to reach out to people on the street as easily as these photographers make it seem on their webpages. Thank you, Jenna and Brandon, for introducing us to these fellow humans!