Humans of UofT creator: meet someone at UofT by saying "hi"
Kalina explains what hurts the most: "when you drift apart with a close friend, love someone who can’t love you back and get your art insulted." / Image by Jemel Ganal
Humans of the University of Toronto's Facebook page is currently at 3889 likes—and rapidly rising—after only 19 days of existence.
Jemel Ganal, a second year Cinema Studies student, established the page on January 23, seeking to “unite our amazing community.” Jemel, like so many UofT students, felt UofT to be impersonal and individualistic, and decided to do something to foster a sense of community.
In an interview with the newspaper, Jemel discussed the various reasons behind starting the page and how it has changed the UofT environment and Jemel’s own personal life.
the newspaper: What do you think prompted you to start this Facebook page?
Jemel Ganal: Well part of it was to get out of my comfort zone. I’m a sociable person, but I can be quite shy and I wanted to do something to get me out there. Also, I really like UofT because it has that authentic university feel. There is so much knowledge being transferred and obtained! But I think the problem is that there is not enough human contact here. The school can feel too academic. The pressure of having to be a prestigious university I think causes the lack of community or family feel.
tn: Do you think because UofT is such a large school it’s harder to meet people and to date? You know, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ve got to ask.
JG: Tell me about it. All my questions recently have been about love. I think if you want to meet people you do. I think in terms of relationships there needs to be a connection. You establish a friendship first through clubs or mutual friends and then you build the relationship. But I’ve also been asking people about what they do that they love, or about something they have passion for, because love is multi-faceted in meaning.
tn: Do you have specific questions you like to ask people?
JG: I usually just ask about things in the moment. I look at people’s responses to see what unifying feelings they have and then form questions from there. Then, when I post the picture, the photos that receive the most likes are my indicators for what people like to read or see the most.
tn: What do people like the most?
JG: The story of the old couple that first met at UofT 68 years ago got the most likes. People love old couples.
tn: So when did you decide to photograph people?
JG: I’m a huge fan of photography. In fact, I just got a new Canon camera and lens! I was already doing street photography and my friends told me I should do my own Humans of New York. I don’t know, I just said I’d do it and I did, and my friends have been very supportive.
tn: Are you selective with the people you choose to photograph?
JG: No, I get a variety of people. There is no specific thing that draws me to someone. Sure, if they’re wearing weird or bright clothing, that always catches my eye, but I try to get kids in the library, walking to class, getting coffee, just ordinary things. Also, all the photos I take go up.
tn: Has anyone ever told you they don’t want their picture taken?
JG: Hardly ever. I can count how many times; it's been about five rejections and they’re always really nice about it. So far I’ve taken about 70 pictures.
tn: Student response seems to be really positive on the page.
JG: It has been. I get great constant support and I’ve received messages by people saying how much they appreciate the site. I always make sure to respond to everyone, because it means so much to me. I never thought it would have been like this.
tn: You’re like a celebrity on campus now!
JG: I know! That’s why I like to keep my image anonymous. Everyone thinks that picture of Adi is me. He gets mistaken for me all the time.
tn: Would you say you’ve found your own UofT community by doing this project?
JG: This is my niche. Before I started this project I was really confused about myself. This has really grounded me and I’m more secure in the fact that I am a social and independent person. It’s a great feeling to know who you are.
tn: Is there a message you have for other kids struggling to find their niche here?
JG: Don’t be afraid to get out there—people are a lot nicer than you think. As cliché as it sounds, you never know until you try. It’s as simple as saying “hi.” Even if you’re rejected, there are thousands of other kids out there.
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