On a warm July day over a FaceTime call, a classmate and I had wondered what was missing from SOAS’s array of Instagram accounts. Having just survived the perils of England’s longest lockdown to date, we realised there was no page for SOAS students to share their stories. SOAS is a very community-oriented university. After all, we are a small campus with roughly 5000 students. With over 53% international students and with travel restrictions in place, there was no telling how many students would be in London, let alone when we would return to campus.
With classes being online, to an extent we lost that sense of community. People of SOAS began as an attempt to salvage that, a way for us to remain connected. Furthermore, we wanted to create a space that enabled students to share their stories and experiences. To have a platform that allowed students to have their voices heard, whether they are talking about their experience at SOAS or an issue that is important to them.
Thus, the hard part ensued. That is, finding students who would be willing to take part. We started to message all of our classmates, and to our pleasant surprise, we were met with much enthusiasm. The page started to become more and more popular. Eventually, we were receiving messages with students, both past and present, asking to be featured. Usually, we ask students a series of questions, which vary depending if they are alumni or current students. But we also like to give free reign to students and allow them to write about something significant in their life.
The story that impacted me the most was that of my classmate, Weronika. In October, we heard that almost all pregnancy terminations were to be banned in Poland. As a result, protests broke out there. Those protests then reached London. In a beautifully written post, Weronika broke down the corruption and patterns of political change that resulted in such laws coming about. It was at that moment we realised the power that our page might hold. We hope that in the future, students and staff would feel able to use People of SOAS to raise awareness about other social justice and human rights issues.
I believe it is our responsibility as a student-run account, to amplify the voices of students at SOAS. It is our vision to expand the account to include the voices of staff members. We want to encompass and fully represent the SOAS community as a whole. What People of SOAS has revealed to me is the beauty and uniqueness of individual stories. Our passions and willingness to talk about issues that we cannot remain silent on. Both of us who run the account are in our final year, but we wish to find students to continue the account after graduation. My hope is that despite remote study, we will continue to grow as a community and learn from each other’s stories and experiences.
This has led me to question why stories are so powerful. They hold more power than facts and information. University is often where we find ourselves, it is through stories that we can identify with the lived experience of others. As the German philosopher, essayist and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin once said “The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time.” Therefore, information is fleeting, but stories shape our lives and the world we inhabit.
You can check out People at SOAS on Instagram here.