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Humans of Rutgers

“I’m an Indian Punjabi girl at heart. I’m very proud of that, and I’m even prouder because I just love it. Punjabi people are known to be vibrant, loud and just really loving. I think what I love about what I am and the culture I grew up in is that we’re very accepting. The fact that my culture and my family just stays so tight-knit to our roots is very important to me. My mom instilled a lot of the culture in me. I speak the native language, I listen to the music and I design my own outfits. It’s always good to know that I’m going to be taking something from my culture, and I’m going to be passing it onto the next generation. I think that’s a very important thing because I never want my culture to die down. That is what makes you unique. If you have a culture, learn about it, make it your own and be happy with it.”

“I was really young when I decided, but I knew that I had people skills. For a long time I was undecided about what I wanted to minor in, but I was always sure about majoring in Social Work. In social work, you work with people who are from different ethnic, race and religious backgrounds and you can't come at them from your perspective. You need to meet them where they are. I took the class ‘Death and Afterlife’ and I really loved it. After that, I decided I wanted to minor in Religion. It opened my eyes to what could happen. I think religion says a lot about a person because it's a moral background, and even if you don't subscribe to a religion now, you kind of have these morals that are based on religion. So learning about religion allows me to know people. My second minor, Race and Ethnic Studies, is about people.”

“My father grew up in a house with not just his sisters and parents, but also with his grandma and cousins, and his father took care of all of them, meaning they didn't always have a lot to go around. They had to relocate a few times without notice for my grandfather's work. It wasn't always stable and my father didn't want that for me, so he wanted to make sure that when we came to the U.S., we would have a better life. When I was growing up, my father also instilled in me a love for cars that never died out. It sounds a bit silly, but I also want to be able to buy him a dream car of sorts as a reward for all the hard work he's done in his life to make sure that the life I lead is better than what he grew up with. That's usually my main motivation. There's small things along the way, i.e. a certain physique when I'm at the gym, a new pair of sneakers when I'm at work, but the above is what has driven me for a long time.”

“I’m actually the first-ever Miss Central Jersey through the Miss America organization. I will be competing for Miss New Jersey in June. And if I were to win that, I would go on to compete for Miss America, which is really exciting. I think one of the main things with being involved in pageants is that there is a lot more to it than what people see on stage. When people think about pageants, they think about the person on stage who has all the makeup on, the hair and the fancy dress. They don’t realize what occurs on the other 364 days in a year when she’s not on stage. One of the big things that I do through that is promote a social impact initiative, which essentially is a community service that you are passionate about, and mine is mental health awareness. I volunteer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and I do a bunch of training programs where I go to schools to educate people about mental health. Being involved in the Miss America organization has given me a lot of opportunities to work on my speaking skills, interview skills and networking with people. That is one of the main reasons why I continue to do this. I’ve done this for five years now, and it’s because I enjoy it so much and see the the value of it.”

“What I plan to achieve from going to Rutgers is one, obtaining a degree. That’s why everyone comes here. A lot of people know that the Rutgers name holds a lot of weight. Rutgers is well-known around the world, so you know all types of things. What I plan to also achieve personally — well one, to be the first generation in my family to graduate and hopefully to obtain my master’s. Most importantly, I want to help the world. Help young children. Young Black children. Girls specifically. There’s this quote: Be the woman that you needed when you were younger. So I hope that I can use Rutgers to build myself up so that I can become successful, but not just live off of my degree, and actually develop it to use to enrich other girls’ lives.”

"I started teaching at Rutgers 21 years ago. I am older than most of my students’ parents. I have pride in teaching them the curriculum as well as the perspectives of human life. My mother always told me, ‘Be humble no matter what you achieve.’ She is my idol, and I am not embarrassed to admit that. After 35 years of my corporate life, I finally took the plunge and decided to start teaching in 1998. I never imagined I would do anything like this, but it is a privilege to see my students grow. I still hear from my students from the earlier classes — work, career growth, marriage invitations and a lot more. I value the word ‘professor’ and the title has changed my life for good. At 78 years old, I feel stronger by the day, and I look forward to dedicating every class to my mother. As I enter, I say: ‘Hey mom, listen up.’”

“I am 1 of 3 Black females out of the entire first-year class in the Dance BFA program at Mason Gross School of the Arts. So that was one of the biggest challenges — not seeing familiar faces, but it’s okay. They’re not racist, they’re not biased, but there is a disparity that we are all aware of. There is a lack of African American representation at Mason Gross.”

"Music has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started out with private piano lessons in elementary school and eventually violin lessons in school in 5th grade, though I didn't really become the passionate musician I am today, until middle school. My three best friends at the time were all violinists, and when they advanced ahead of me, I became more competitive, and tried to improve myself by practicing a ton. I continued with violin in high school, and started learning a few other instruments as well. I’m also really passionate about foreign languages, so I would translate my favorite songs and learn to play my guitar and sing along with them. In college I joined the swing club, opening up a whole new world of dance and 20s-40s music. Violin continues to play a big roll in my life, and whenever life gets too dull or stressful, I like to pick random spots around campus and play for a couple hours."

“Hawaiians have a lot of traditions. We have leis for everything. At my high school when you graduate, everybody comes down to see you either at the ceremony or an event afterwards called the lei portion. It’s where people bring you leis made of flowers, money, or candy, and they’re a way of showing aloha and congratulations. After we graduated, we spent an hour on our field and everybody would stand in a circle. We’d hug each of our classmates goodbye, and it would be the last time we would ever see half of them. At the time you think do I really have to hug all 400 students? But you get to one person and once they see you, you start tearing up. I think it’s one of my favorite things about Hawaii because everybody acts like they’re family.”

When I first got to Rutgers in 2013, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my time. Sure, I had a hobby or two, but I know now that creating Humans of RU has absolutely steered me in the right direction. Meeting so many of you has been an incredible honor and a real pleasure, and it has made this huge Rutgers community seem small, welcoming, interconnected, and really, genuinely human.

This project represents the conversations we should all be having here on campus, acknowledging and exploring the incredible diversity that exists here, and sharing our stories with one another so that we may learn outside of the classroom too. It really makes a difference.

I plan to take that with me as I continue my work as a photographer and as a journalist; As one of the many Scarlet Knight alum and as just one of the many humans of Rutgers University. I have grown so much because of this. Thank you all for coming with me on this ride.

- Jeremy Berkowitz

“For four years, I stubbornly worked toward a vision for myself that I later found out was not going to come true. I was working to become a mechanical engineer, but I made some unwise decisions and lost focus and motivation. I stayed in a pretty unhealthy relationship for longer than I should have, which ended up taking away a lot of my focus from academics, sustaining friendships, and maintaining self-care. Last semester, even though it was supposed to be my final semester of undergrad, it was actually the beginning of a new path for me. So now I’m pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture. I have found healing in coming back to the things I’m really passionate about; integrating art, science and environmental justice into my new major. I’m still battling with the feelings of being left behind, watching those I started this journey with move on to the next chapter of their lives, but thinking about the new opportunities to mentor younger students keeps those feelings of loneliness at bay. I’ve just gotta be honest with myself and run with the lessons I’ve learned here so far, and remember that I haven't truly failed unless I've given up.”

“My brother has been an addict his whole life. And in fifth grade, he really started pressuring me to do drugs. I always hated that my brother did that to me. Now he’s out of control, stealing money from us and tearing my house apart. He doesn’t want to be helped. It’s rough, and for me, the only thing I can do is focus on school. I commute and spend a lot of my days here because it’s not that nice at home. I can only hope that my brother comes to some realization like I did, but I don’t know what else to hope for. My family and I are all left wondering what to do.”

“We met in freshman year of high school, and started out as friends. We were in the same Bio class and the same study hall too. I had a crush on her and she didn’t reciprocate, but in senior year, we went to prom together and started dating right after. We’ve been dating ever since, and it’ll be two years in May.”

“I don’t really have a specific place I call home. For me, home may be Singapore, which is where I grew up. But I was born in India and stayed there until I was four. After that, I was in Singapore until age 16. And I loved it. I was really interested in all sorts of things. I used to dance, I used to go for guitar lessons, and play badminton with my friends every day. But I wasn’t doing so well academically. I was really stressed out. I used to go to school at 7 in the morning, end at 2:30pm, and then take extra lessons and get tutored until 9pm. By the time I reached home, I would be so drained. But I would wake up again at 1am to study. My parents decided it would be best for me to move back to India. And that changed a lot of things for me. I stopped dancing, I stopped playing guitar, and badminton. I didn’t have any friends to connect with. I became a totally different person. I miss the person I used to be but now I’m here and I’m still trying to find my way.”

“One year ago today a really close friend of mine passed away. He changed how I see the world. Because of him, I got really into nature. We used to write poetry and we always used to talk about transcendentalism and the outdoors. I guess for me, working to save the environment, which I’m really passionate about, is my way to say a final goodbye. I’m just fascinated with how everything in nature is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. He helped me realize how important that is, and how happy it makes me every time I go outside. This is for him.”

“My uncle, he’s a math teacher in China. I used to be his student, and he wrote something in my yearbook once. I don’t really know how to say it, but he wrote… always be prepared for whatever’s coming. And I never really thought about it until now. When I was in middle school in China, I had the chance to go somewhere for a competition, but I was too shy and I lost the chance. I didn’t have the courage. Later on when I came here, I found that there are a lot of great opportunities that I need to be prepared for. I just switched majors from accounting to supply chain management, where the opportunities are more about working with other people. And since coming here I’m more prepared for that, for meeting new people in a different environment.”

(3/3) "Throughout the Summer, I went through intensive therapy sessions to recover, but returning back to Rutgers in the Fall was still very scary for me. It was almost traumatic. I wanted to let the people I trusted know what had happened and what I needed from them. I knew it was going to be hard, but I really wanted to push forward. Some people responded saying they wanted to do whatever they could to help. And initially, because of that, I thought I would return to a very welcoming environment here. But it was completely the opposite. A lot of my friends didn’t talk to me, not even a word. It made me feel even more isolated. But I feel a little bit better now. I’m graduating soon and I’m reconnecting with the friends I feel are most important to me. Overall I feel like as a society, we’ve become less and less caring and concerned about others. We’ve become so much more focused on our success and our own ambitions that we forget about the community around us that sometimes needs a little help and support. A simple ‘Hi, how are things going? I hope everything’s going well,’ can do a lot.”

(2/3) “It was the last day of school. It actually started off as a normal day. I had a presentation for one of my classes and that went very well. I had the opportunity to say bye to my friends in a club I was involved in and at the dorms too. But later in the day, the thought of people leaving for the Summer brought on that feeling of isolation again and I was reflecting on a pretty horrible year. It got to the point where my roommates moved out and I was the only one left, to be picked up the next day. I was alone and this inescapable feeling of despair and helplessness came over me. I tried reaching out to some people, but they weren’t available at the time. And when I realized no one was there, that’s when I took a knife to my wrist. I was in the hospital for a night and was discharged the next day. That whole first week was a blur to me. I put a lot of blame on myself and also asked myself what I did to deserve this. There was a bit of resentment too. If only my friends had been a bit more supportive. But it wasn't something that I talked about a lot, so I also understand why some people didn’t notice.”

(1/3) “During my junior year here, I started feeling very depressed. And it was the first time that I felt something like this. I really didn’t know how to react, and my first instinct was to talk to some of my friends about it. In doing so, I feel like I found a home confiding in some of these friends. But because of the stress of dealing with emotions like this, I also lost a very good friend of mine who said she wasn’t able to be my friend anymore and that she wasn’t able to handle it. And that was kind of the tipping point for me. I lost trust in a lot of people, because this was the person I could trust the most. I went through a very tough period of self doubt and I felt very isolated from my friends. I felt very silenced. And that silence put me off from receiving treatment from a professional. For a while those feelings bottled up, until May when I decided maybe I should try to end it.”

“I was one of those kids who was forced to learn piano. I dreaded playing. But then when I was eleven, there was this game called The Sims, I think it’s still around. I played the very first version, and they had these radios that you could put into the houses with classical channels, and I thought some of these pieces were actually quite nice. One of them really stood out to me, so I searched for the music. Took me a long time to figure out what it was because I had no idea where to begin looking, but it turned out to be a movement from a Mozart sonata. And from there I started learning on my own and listening to classical music. It’s become more than a pastime for me, music is my life. Music is a language. And I’m usually rather reserved, but as with any language, you need something to say. And if you have something to say and you can communicate it to an audience and affect those listening, I think that’s really special.”