The Human Behind Humans of Stuy

Humans of Stuy, a club that publishes the stories of members of the Stuyvesant community, was recently revived by sophomore Madelyn Nunez, who aims to widen the size and readership of the publication.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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By Eva Kastoun

When Madelyn Nunez first encountered the club Humans of Stuy at the beginning of her freshman year, she didn’t think twice about it. However, now a sophomore, Nunez has set out to revive the publication from its dormant state to help members of the Stuyvesant community connect and learn more about one another. 

Humans of Stuy, originally founded in 2012 by Keshara Senanayake (‘14), was inspired by Humans of New York, a publication that shares stories about New Yorkers. Humans of Stuy covers various aspects of students’ lives, from specific memories and life-changing experiences to simple, random thoughts. “It takes stories from various individuals [at] Stuy, whether it be alumni, faculty, or students, and we just get to see snippets of each other's lives,” Nunez explained. 

These stories come from the individuals themselves, who first offer their personal experiences to the club via a Google Form, linked on both the Humans of Stuy Instagram page and each grade’s Facebook group. “First, people submit a very short summary of their story, and then from there, we conduct an interview. And in the interview, we just build on the story, get to know every tiny viewpoint of the story, and then we edit it and we piece it together,” Nunez described. Club members conduct most of the interviews, and Nunez is the editor. These interviews can convey a range of emotions, from funny and lighthearted to sad and emotional, yet they all share a common element: they are deeply personal. “It could be one word for all I care, as long as it's about the person it comes from,” Nunez said.

When Nunez entered Stuyvesant, Humans of Stuy had been inactive for months, ever since February 2022. Though the club continued through the pandemic, it struggled to thrive. One of the club’s former presidents, Julian Giordano (‘21), explained why the pandemic was so hard for Humans of Stuy. “COVID-19 presented a challenge to the project: how can you take photos remotely? We experimented with photography through Zoom and FaceTime but were unable to get traction. It was a crazy time in everyone’s life, and it was understandable that it was hard to get engagement from photographers and interviewees alike,” Giordano said in an e-mail interview. 

Even after remote learning, the club found it difficult to regain momentum. Another former president, Steven Wen (‘22), explained that this was due to a lack of photographers. “Humans of Stuy’s shutdown in 2022, in my opinion, can be related to dwindling interest in photography,” Wen recounted in an e-mail interview. Photography is an essential aspect of the stories that Humans of Stuy shares; without quality photographs of the interviewees, an important aspect of what makes the club so special was gone.

Though Humans of Stuy had been dormant, there was still student interest in the club. Nunez discovered the club through a post on the “Dear Incoming Stuyvesant Class of 2026” Facebook page about reinstating it. “I was kind of just scrolling on the [Facebook class of 2026 group], and then one of the [posts] was like, ‘someone should bring back Humans of Stuy,’” Nunez described. Unfortunately, with all of her other activities, Nunez believed it was too much to handle in her freshman year. 

However, on September 8, 2023, in a period of self-described boredom, Nunez decided to further investigate Humans of Stuy and how to restart it. Nunez wrote to the previous presidents, Rachel Vildman (‘22), Wen, Frances Sy (‘21), and Giordano, asking for the login information of the club’s Instagram and Google accounts, which she received. However, though she now had access to those accounts, it was difficult to lead the club without anyone’s guidance, as the former presidents had all since graduated high school. “No one's here to guide me,” Nunez explained. Fortunately, by searching through old spreadsheets and documents to gain expertise on how to run the club, Nunez was able to reestablish Humans of Stuy on her own. 

Since the publication had been dormant for so long, many people were initially unaware of its existence. Thus, Nunez had to take matters into her own hands to get her first interviews. “I kind of just harassed all my friends like, can you please submit a story? I need a story. I also got a few teachers to do it,” Nunez said. Since then, the club has published a few new stories and has gained more popularity. 

Behind the scenes, the team that runs Humans of Stuy is still quite small, and Nunez makes all of the final edits as the sole leader of the club. Nunez expressed that she would be interested in expanding leadership positions, but expects future club presidents to be just as invested. “I do not want just anyone working with me on Humans of Stuy for the sake of it. I want to know that they are committed for the right reasons,” she explained. 

With Humans of Stuy growing rapidly, Nunez encourages students to join. “More resources equals more stories and more interest,” Nunez said. Currently, the club is structured in two groups: interviewers, who meet with the interviewees and later condense their stories, and photographers, who take photos of the interviewees. “I might add an editor section because I also edit all the stories and I feel like, as time goes on, that will get really tiring,” Nunez continued. Nunez’s editing mainly consists of fixing grammatical errors—while editing, she prioritizes preserving the voice of the interviewee.

After editing is finished, the story is finally able to be published. The main way that Humans of Stuy presents their stories is through their Instagram page, though Nunez does want to restore the website. Nunez is also interested in reviving the book format for publishing stories as Senanayake, the founder of Humans of Stuy, did in 2015: “It'd be cool to do it maybe at the end of the year, but we'll see how it goes,” Nunez said. 

Nunez’s final goal with Humans of Stuy is to make it a fundamental part of the Stuyvesant experience. “The end goal is to have it as important to Stuyvesant as any central Stuy [cultural element] is. I want it to be like The Spectator or SING!,” Nunez said. “I want people to know what it is and I want people to willingly share their story. And I want this to continue after I graduate,” Nunez added. 

 Nunez’s passion for Humans of Stuy comes from her belief that their stories can help break boundaries. “[We] get to know each other better,” Nunez said. “It not only brings us together, but it also helps break down stereotypes.” By learning more about one another, students can eradicate some of their implicit biases—these stories allow students to see beyond each other’s exteriors. 

This has been the goal of Humans of Stuy from its inception. “During my time at Stuyvesant, I recall Humans of Stuy serving as a force for empathy in the school community,” Giordano explained in an e-mail interview. “Students (and staff) would read each others’ profiles and respond thoughtfully and supportively in the comments. I think the profiles are a unique way of celebrating Stuyvesant’s diversity and ultimately remind us of the importance of being open-minded and of listening to those around us—there is always more to people than meets the eye,” Giordano continued. 

Students who currently follow Humans of Stuy, such as sophomore Alison Ren, have found that learning more about fellow members of the Stuyvesant community is the best part of reading the account’s stories. “When you walk by people, you don't know them. [...] But through Humans of Stuy, [...] you put the name to the face and then you get to know something that's not necessarily something you would know about them because they kind of share vulnerable things,” Ren explained. One story that Ren recently connected with was from freshman Afsara Bhuiyan, who talked about her experience of her friend being diagnosed with brain cancer and going through chemotherapy. “She had a friend who was ill, right? She [had] a slim chance of surviving. That's something you wouldn't say [in another context],” Ren described. With Humans of Stuy, however, students often feel more comfortable sharing their stories. 

Junior Charles Li, who was an interviewee for Humans of Stuy, agreed that being able to read the more vulnerable stories of Stuyvesant students, faculty, and alumni is one of the best parts of the club. “Humans of Stuy offers a lot of different, more personal perspectives. I guess because most of the time when you're talking to someone you'd rather not talk about something that's so serious or things [that] are really personal about your family [...] A lot of people don't get to see those sides of their friends,” Li explained. 

Sophomore Audrey Hilger, who was also an interviewee, shared similar sentiments with Li. In Hilger’s piece, she talked about her brother, who has a disability—something that she would not normally share with her friends in a casual conversation. “Everyone has something about their life that's different or struggles that they go through, [and learning about them has made me] more empathetic,” Hilger said. 

Not all of the stories on Humans of Stuy are as vulnerable as those of Bhuiyan or Hilger, though. Math teacher Anthony Del Latto, who was interviewed for Humans of Stuy, shared a more lighthearted tale. “The story that I told was about being featured in a video where I got to conduct an interview with the main vocalist (SIYEON) of the K-pop group Dreamcatcher during a trip that I took to South Korea last August,” Del Latto described in an e-mail interview. Regardless of the tone the stories take, they help to paint a better picture of the Stuyvesant community. 

Though all students at Stuyvesant are encouraged to read Humans of Stuy, Nunez also believes the platform to be beneficial for people outside of Stuyvesant to learn more about the people in it. “Everyone outside of Stuy, they're like, ‘you're a nerd, you don't have a life.’ I want to prove to people we're not just robots, we're people with feelings. We have extracurriculars and [...] we all have something to share. We're not what you see on the outside. [We’re] human beings with feelings and lives outside of the textbook,” Nunez explained.

Though there are plenty of ways for Stuyvesant students to connect with their peers, the return of Humans of Stuy is exciting for its own reason: it gives members of the Stuyvesant community a platform on which to share the stories that they might not be able to elsewhere, allowing students and faculty to connect on a deeper level. The stories of Humans of Stuy may be interesting and often entertaining, but they are more than that: they are a way of bringing us all together.