Humans of Westview admins abandon anonymity

This school year, the student-run photoblog Humans of Westview has made a profound change to the way that it’s run in a manner that completely shifts the dynamic between the audience and administrators, or admins: it completely discarded admin anonymity.

Up until now, there have been no names accredited to compiling the information, taking the photos, or running the accounts; the account was a complete mystery.

While a handful of  admins’ names may not seem like a huge deal, they have made quite the impact on the Westview community.

What started out as a simple Facebook page roughly seven years ago, has now developed into what one of the current admins, Alexis Olaes (12), calls “a digital yearbook of Westview students.”

With an audience of more than 1,500 over Facebook and Instagram, it’s safe to say that Humans of Westview has a voice. Inspired by the widely-recognized project Humans of New York, which consists of pictures of the city’s inhabitants along with individual interview snippets, Humans of Westview serves to share students’ stories.

However, there is a distinct difference in the projects’ audiences; while New York City is home to millions, Westview has a much smaller community.

“Humans of Westview interview actual students, which makes the account more relatable.” said Alyssa Domingo (11), a fan of the photoblog. “I feel a more personal connection to their stories because of that.”

Danny Villalva (11), one of three current admins, believes that being completely transparent with the audience is beneficial.

“[Revealing our names] makes it more open for people to know who [the admins] are,” Villalva said. “Instead of people anonymously emailing ‘Hey, can I get interviewed’ or ‘This person has something to say,’ they can actually approach us at school. It’s more personal.”

Building that relationship with the audience engenders more trust between the administrator and interviewee. According to Villalva, this ultimately prompts the interviewee to share more authentic and impactful stories.

This connects back to another one of the admin’s main objectives: to showcase  Westview’s diverse community.

“Four years in high school isn’t a lot, and you can’t do everything,” Olaes said. “Through Humans of Westview you can see different aspects and perspectives of Westview students.”

According to Kaila Uyeda (11), a follower of the project, by making the Westview community more aware of varying viewpoints, Humans of Westview has helped develop a more inclusive and accepting campus.

“[Humans of Westview] is very insightful and allows people to see what others may be going through, even if they aren’t outwardly open to discussing it.” said Uyeda. “[The account] is a reminder that there’s more to people than meets the eye.”

For example, Villalva recently interviewed a freshman who is in theater. Being an upperclassman, he underestimated the stress that many freshmen experience while trying to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.

After hearing about the student’s fears prior to starting school and the relief he felt when the theater community welcomed him with open arms, Villalva said he has gained a better understanding of the struggles that many freshmen face.

Funnily enough, the huge milestone that encouraged this  personal shift for Humans of Westview actually began as an unintentional change. Daniel Lang (12), a new recruit, added the admins’ names to the bios of the accounts, unaware of the weight that the information carried.

Initially, Villalva was rather indifferent about it, as he, similar to Lang, didn’t realize the impact they would have. Olaes, however, was rather opposed to taking the risk.

Having been a part of Humans of Westview since her junior year, longer than any of the other admins, she was aware of previous concerns.

According to Olaes, the concept of transparency has been brought up frequently in the past, but rejected each time due to the possible repercussions.

The admins feared that the loss of anonymity would draw more attention to the admins themselves than carry out the original goal of the accounts: to share others’ stories.

However, now that they’ve witnessed the profound effect that transparency has had on campus in encouraging personal and relatable stories, both Villalva and Olaes are much more supportive of revealing their names.

While Humans of Westview undoubtedly impacts the audience, it also has a large effect on the admins themselves.

“[Working with people] has taught me to  really listen to  others,” Olaes said.  “Everyone has their own background and story,  even if  nowadays there aren’t many chances to hear them.”

To Villalva, the most important takeaway from his Humans of Westview experience so far is that everyone has a story.

“Whether it’s something serious like a life lesson that they can teach or something that brings them joy, I think that everybody has something,” Villalva said. “I’ve learned that if you ask the right questions or you give someone the chance to talk, it’ll brighten up their day.”

Being the only non-senior administrator last year, Olaes had to recruit two new students to help tackle the responsibility of maintaining the account throughout the 2017-2018 school year.

Responsibilities are delegated based on grade level, with the juniors and underclassmen conducting the interviews and taking pictures, and the seniors organizing the information and posting it on the pages.

This organizational system is used not only by the Humans of Westview accounts, but also by a majority of the “Humans of”-type accounts in the Poway Unified School District.

In fact, the administrators from each school collaborate to improve structural components and give each other feedback on posts.

This way, all of the admins in the Poway Unified School District are able to consult each other to assure that the accounts are the best they can be.

Since Olaes and Lang are set to graduate this spring, Villalva will now be left to scout out potential admins of various grade levels for the upcoming year with good listening skills and a passion to learn about others, in order to keep the legacy alive and thriving.

While it won’t be an easy task, allowing more people to experience the interviews and be a part of something so impactful on campus makes it all worth it to Villalva.

According to Olaes, although she’ll no longer be a Westview student, her Humans of Westview experience will continue to impact her.

After all, as she explains, Humans of  Westview is unique and special.

”We’re not a club on campus,” Olaes said. ”We’re not an organization, we’re not an extracurricular. We’re just three people who want to let other people’s stories be heard.”