Photographer chronicles Tech students’ stories

Photo courtesy of Karen Yiu

“Everyone has a diverse perspective,” said Humans of Georgia Tech photographer, Karen Yiu. In a world of diversity statistics and affirmative action, the idea that someone’s story is what makes them diverse is radical.

Of course, Brandon Stanton — better known as Humans of New York (HONY) — established this contagious theory. Truth be told, race, gender and sexual orientation do affect a person’s perspective. But none of these filters can be determined by one look or even one picture.

Karen Yiu started Humans of Georgia Tech as her graduate project while in a joint program between UGA  and Tech. This project required her to use technology to further her goal to explore diversity though the different filters of race and gender.

A required disclaimer is that Yiu’s project is separate from the student-led Facebook page. Yiu started a Tumblr dedicated to her  project well before this better-known page was founded. Yiu still posts daily without fail.

Her favorite post is one of her first posts. She interviewed a facilities worker who had been born in Georgia, moved away and later returned. She recalls his incredibly warm and inviting demeanor and his surprising honesty. “The honesty of most of the people I interview surprises me,” Yiu says.

Her goal with each interview is to start a conversation. She randomly goes up to students who aren’t studying in the Student Center or the CULC and asks them for an interview.

Once she finds an interviewee, she asks them a question or questions along the lines of “What is something you wish you could control?” or “Do you collect anything?” to start off the conversation. She then will use those answers to build more questions in an attempt to get to the core what makes the interviewee unique. The stories she tells through Humans of GT prove her capable of this treasure hunting.

By the end of her graduate project, Yiu had over one hundred followers on Tumblr, so when she was offered a full time position in Student Diversity Programs on campus, she continued the page. She keeps a backlog of interviews and photos, so that on days when she is really busy she can still post one a day faithfully.

Yiu still strives to shed light on the diversity on campus. Whether it is one’s sexual orientation, race, gender or birthplace, Yiu wants to explore and expose a person’s humanity and diversity. The overall goal is to celebrate the multiculturalism at Tech and allow each student to have respect for every other student and his or her own unique perspective.

Currently, Yiu is the Coordinate for Student Diversity Programs, part of the Division of Student Life. The goal of her work on the blog is in line with the mission of the program, which is to coordinate and plan educational opportunities for underrepresented and under-served groups on campus, as well as to eliminate discrimination and acts of intolerance on campus.  They promote diversity and multi-cultural communities on campus with programs like Diversity through Art, Diversity Week and the Multicultural Competence Plan. The program seeks to promote the understanding, appreciation and celebration of Tech’s cultural diversity.

Yiu does just that in capturing the many faces of Tech as well as their voices. Although the conversations are just snapshots into their lives, Yiu’s questions always seem to touch upon topics of significance and relevance in everyone’s life.  Her questions educe new and unique insight from each person she interviews, and demonstrates the variety of backgrounds, perspectives, interests and talents of not only students, but faculty and staff as well.

Student and faculty profiles can be viewed on the Humans of Georgia Tech Tumblr page.