A worldwide audience for a student phenomenon: ‘Students of Cambridge’

Julius Haswell 9 February 2015

The 'Students of Cambridge' brand has grown exponentially over the past few months. Based on the 'Humans of New York' model, the Facebook page sets out to post photos and small quotations of random, interesting, and often weird students in Cambridge. I got the chance to speak to the founder of Students of Cambridge and was able to ask him some questions about his work. He has asked to remain anonymous, so for the sake of this interview he shall be called Tom. 

I started off by asking him what gave him the idea for starting up this page: “About a year ago I just wanted to know what the people of Cambridge were really like. There are a tonne of myths about the “typical Oxbridge student” and I didn't fit that stereotype at all. I was also a massive 'Humans of New York' fan at the time, and there was nothing like it for Cambridge! I just made it my goal to create a similar Facebook page.

“We're trying to paint a more honest picture of what Cambridge is really like. We're not trying to say that people who fit the stereotype doesn't exist, because they do and we wouldn't shy away from it. We'd embrace it if we came across someone like that in the street. We're trying to paint a more honest picture of what it's really like.”

Tom was so passionate about his new project, and his sincerity shone through more than anybody else I've had the pleasure of interviewing. I asked him why he does it still: “I just really like people! I love just talking to people and getting to know them. It means I've seen over half the colleges because I've been there walking around them. Whereas most of my friends have no idea about most of the other colleges in Cambridge.”

His criteria for choosing who he talks to is very surprising. “If I'm walking past someone in the street and they make any kind of friendly eye contact, I'll go straight up to them. Sometimes I find myself walking past someone then 10 seconds later running back after them because I'm forcing myself to go and talk to them. It can be nerve-wracking and difficult going up to a random stranger and explaining who you are and what you do, and basically befriending them.”

I soon found out however that Students of Cambridge is more than just a gimmick, or extra-curricular activity, it is now a platform for causes around Cambridge: “It used to be just something fun, but now I've seen it develop into something more. A simple funny story about someone's gap year, makes this now a more centralised platform for things that are happening at university. So when the two girls started the 'Black Lives Matter' campaign with the whiteboards, we put it on the page and it was seen by 22,000 people. We have audiences from all around the world now, from Asia to South America.

“I have now also trademarked the'“Students of…' brand, and we've spread to Oxford, and many other universities around the country like Bristol, St Andrews, Leeds.” Tom's idea has spread, and it's spread fast. The variation on a theme of 'Humans of New York' is very popular around the world and gets thousands of views in all four corners of the planet. 

Still, Tom had to play his talent down at the end: “I'm definitely not a photographer. I was always the guy on school trips who took other people's cameras and tried to take cool arty photos.”