“My Main Objective is Empathy”

Stephanie Faucher ’16 is one of the founding members of Humans of William & Mary, and she co-directed the team from Fall 2014 to Spring 2015. Please visit her personal website to learn more about her artistic projects.

I wanted to interview you because you seem like a very artistic, wonderful soul on campus. So I wanted to know, what do you think your place is on campus? Do you think this artistic perception accurately reflects you?

I always find that such a weird question because, especially this year, a lot of people have come up to me and they’re like, “Oh I’ve seen your work, it’s so great!” And it’s weird because I never set out with that intention like, “I need to make a change and influence this campus!” I do things because they just pop into my head and I’m like, “I’m gonna do it!” But it is really amazing that people will resonate with what I put out there, and react in such a positive way. Freshman year everyone is like, “You’ve gotta join all these clubs and tick all those boxes on your resume!” No one cares about those boxes, that’s what I’ve learned. Senior year I quit everything. I left Humans because Humans is an artistic endeavor and it was time to let it go. I wanted to hand it over to someone else and see what they do with it. The beauty of this project is that it’s fluid and it can change and influence so many people. So I decided to just pursue my own artistic things. Last semester I was making a short film which took up most of my time. This semester I just got this drive to do all these creative things.

What it comes down to is my love for showing people the essence of human beings. Everyone has a story to tell. Actually last night, I was out and met some people and someone said to me that people here don’t have interesting stories. And I sat there very flabbergasted, and was just like, “What do you mean?” And their marker for interesting was something grandiose, like traveling and going on adventures. However, 99 percent of the time life is boring. Life is mundane. Life is sleep, cook, eat, go to school. It’s important to see the beauty in the mundane.

My projects aren’t doing anything crazy; I’m just shooting people around campus and it shows that there is something beautiful and interesting and diverse about everyone that goes here. I guess my place is just that I’m a listener. People just have an easy time opening up to me, which is fantastic. Because I get to hear people tell me these beautiful things about themselves, I want to show the world how beautiful these people are.

Again it’s a weird question because I didn’t see myself as anyone special. I’m just myself, and I love talking to and getting to know people. Everyone is human, and I may not like you or agree with you, but I do understand that you are human. I want to showcase that everyone has complexity, and you can’t dehumanize someone because you don’t agree with them.

I saw your vulnerability project and I really resonated with that. It’s an interesting concept and something that not a lot of people showcase to the world.

Yes, and I feel so privileged that people feel they can be a part of my projects and open up to me and know that I’m going to be, you know, posting this on the Internet. With everyone who’s done my vulnerability or empowerment projects, or my Expose series, they’re all doing something so brave. You’re putting your guard down in a way. And people really shouldn’t minimize that. I think because I’ve done Humans, I’ve learned that it’s so hard open up like that and know their story is going to be out there for people to judge and scrutinize. It’s amazing to me that people will be part of my projects; I feel so privileged.

Have you done any projects about you? Like not showcasing the human experience?

Yeah, I mean the first Expose project I did was a self-portrait project. With art, it’s kind of a reflection of what you’re going through at the time. And at this time in my life, I’ve been focused on the human experience, and that’s what’s pouring into my projects right now. I do love doing sports photography! I also love senior portraits! I just love taking photos and that will manifest itself in different ways. But I’m starting to know myself more and I’m realizing that the stuff I’m really good at is human experience-related. With art, you either have to choose to expand your skills or become a master in one aspect, and I’m kind of at that crossroads right now.

So, in your projects, is it your objective to show that we’re all diverse or that we’re all the same?

Really my main objective is empathy. There’s a lot of empathy lacking. It’s amazing to me how terribly people can treat other people just because they don’t even try to understand. You don’t have to like someone, but you have to understand they are human. Empathy is so important because sometimes we need to get out of our own little bubble and put ourselves in other people’s shoes and just be like, “I get it.” That person who said that nobody’s stories are interesting, I was just like, “You lack empathy; you’re just not listening.” A lot of the best moments aren’t grandiose and crazy, they’re just fun. What I’m trying to show through this diverse range of people is that we all need to be empathetic towards each other.

To me, one of the biggest problems at this school is a lack of empathy…and a fixation on the shallow things. Yeah, getting 400 likes on a picture is great, but out of those 400 likes maybe two of those people will be there for you when things really get bad. At this school, people follow the path that’s already been set for them. If I do this, and I tick these boxes, I will get this job, etc. The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone is that no one gives two shits about your resume. What will get you farther in life are your personal skills, so stop being obsessed over being the most popular on Facebook or doing things because you think you need it. The best jobs I’ve ever gotten are because I sat down and had coffee with someone and they didn’t even look at my resume. Being empathetic and nice to people and knowing how to act appropriately will get you so much farther in life than being SA president or president of this or that.

College should be that time when you make mistakes and learn from them. People here see making a mistake as a weakness and it’s not; I’ve learned the best things from making mistakes. I’ve seen people post pictures on Facebook with their best friends and then sit down and talk terribly about them and I’m like, “What are you doing?” And it’s all just part of this social media illusion. We just try to make our lives interesting, our stories interesting because we want a picture to post on social media to get external gratification. And everyone does it, I Instagram way too much. Internal validation is what’s important though—understanding why people act the way they do. If you see someone screwing up, instead of bitching about them, try and help them out. Sit and talk with them. Find out why they’re acting the way they are. We’re all adults.

So yeah, what’s driving my projects is the fact that no one is perfect, and that trying to be someone because you think it will make you successful will make you the least successful person ever. You will never be the next Steve Jobs because Steve Jobs was successful because of all of his personal factors that you don’t have, including his mental health, his personality, his lifestyle and childhood. The people who are successful never follow a path already taken.

That was a long tangent.

No, that was a beautiful tangent! So were you always this confident in your philosophy?

My dad’s from the state department so I moved here from Europe, and I’d only lived in the States from 5th to 7th grade. And moving here sucked. There was a lack of empathy for my situation. People would be like, “Why do you talk about missing Europe? You’re such a snob!” And in some ways I was a pretentious snob, I mean freshman year, you’re only 18 and trying to fit in. But yeah, people disregarded my story because, to them, a two-hour train ride from Brussels to Paris doesn’t make sense, but a four-hour drive to New York from NoVa does. There was a lack of parallelism. And as an 18-year-old girl, you have a lot of confidence issues. You’re questioning what it means to be attractive, and you’re stuck in an artificial environment, especially in Williamsburg, which is such a bubble. So freshman year I succumbed to those pressures. I gained a lot of my friends early on due to drinking and partying. That’s all we did and talked about. And when I was in a terrible place, no one was there and it was like “woah.”

Midway through sophomore year, it was like a wall. I was like, “I need to change.” I basically spent a semester caving to myself and I had one friend. That’s all I needed; I didn’t drink and I took time to figure myself out. At the end of junior year, I got a scholarship to go to New York for the summer. Last summer was the summer I grew into myself. I was living alone in New York and knew no one, and it was surviving. If you look on my Facebook or Instagram, it looks so luxurious and fun. But you know what I didn’t post? Having to eat three bowls of oatmeal some days because I didn’t have the money to buy food and didn’t have a kitchen. But yeah, it was also fantastic; I came back to school with a whole network of professional people and got to work on my first feature film.

But I came back to Williamsburg, and started seeing the way people treated each other, and it was really disheartening. In New York, people are tough because they’re surviving, but people were always there for each other. And here I would see the way people talked about their friends or put people down, and it just made me go “wow.” So I started going with my gut more and helping people, even if they thought I was crazy. This empathy is what’s grown in the past four years.

I mean, I was a stubborn asshole freshman and sophomore year. Through these failures I’ve had, failed friendships and failed relationships, I’ve learned that taking risks is so important. You learn how to take risks better if you take risks and fail. It’s been this four-year journey of my trial and error, losing friends and being hurt and disheartened by people, and making mistakes. So yeah, I definitely was not confident with my philosophy when I was younger, but it has culminated over four years. And I think I did college right, because when I look back at my freshman self, I’ve changed so much.

When you started Humans of William & Mary, where were you in life?

Well, I think I was coming from a place where I wanted to make the change that I made this year. I was at the start of a change, but I didn’t have the confidence in my philosophy.

What has Humans taught you about life?

That I can approach random strangers and ask them a question and they’ll answer. I got stuck in a bubble freshman year. I was very involved in one club and had one set of friends. But Humans gave me the means to interact with different people. Humans taught me that I couldn’t pass judgement, that I had to sit with someone and ask questions that were thought-provoking and curious. Through those interviews, Humans taught me to be a good listener and ask questions that’ll push the limits without being condescending. Humans was kind of the start of me becoming empathetic.

I sometimes feel like there’s not a lot of room for art at this school, did you feel that way when you were choosing to come here?         

So originally I wanted to be a history and econ double major, and work in developmental economics, so I wasn’t thinking about art at all. I love history, and I think that contributes to me being empathetic. I see things in a nuanced way, because when you’re a real history major, you learn that things are not good and bad and everything is nuanced. As I grew, I guess I just realized I like graphic design, and photography and videography. I was like, “There’s no room for it, but I’m just gonna do it!” That’s what New York really solidified for me. No one is gonna just pick up your ass and help you do something; if you wanna do something, you need to be proactive. I initially didn’t think I was gonna be creative in college. I was pretty preppy in high school in a sense. I guess if you do college right, you just kinda grow into who you’re supposed to be.

What do you want to do after college?

I think at the end of the day, I just want to tell people’s stories, whatever that means. I’ll find a way to do it.

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