Meeting Midd: John Schurer Builds Community Through Photo Storytelling
April 11, 2018
Transitioning to college is not easy for anyone, and so one first-year has made it his mission to foster a strong community among the first-year class through sharing stories and photography. On any given day, John Schurer ’21 will attend classes, participate in various student organization meetings and collect the stories of his classmates for posting on his new initiative, MeetMidd. Taking the form of a website, Facebook and Instagram accounts, MeetMidd is a space for members of the Class of 2021 and 2021.5 to share anecdotes about themselves to a wider audience. Over the past few months, it has turned into an entity uniting the community and building relationships among others in the first-year class.
Schurer’s interest in photography started in middle school.
“For the longest time I’ve loved photography and I used to take photos of very typical subjects — things like sunsets, my friends, dogs,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started MeetMidd that I did profile photography, but once I started I almost couldn’t stop.”
He believes that profile photography enables him to combine his interests in photography and getting to know people.
“A photographer doesn’t take a photograph, a photographer makes a photograph,” Schurer said, saying that he aims to capture feelings through composing his subjects.
While he is new to profile photography, Schurer is no stranger to the world of communications, social media and publicity. He currently serves on a host of committees and participates in various extracurricular activities, including MCAB’s Traditions Committee, Wonnacott Commons Council and the SGA’s Publicity Committee, to name a few. Schurer is also one of two First-Year Senators for the Class of 2021, a producer for the Middlebury Moth-Up and the publicity coordinator for the Center for Community Engagement’s Page One Literacy Project.
“The more things I have going on, the more I feel grounded in a place,” he said.
Schurer started MeetMidd with the goal of giving students a chance to share their stories.
“I was inspired by a quote by Maya Angelou, and she once said that ‘there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,’” he said.
He believes storytelling can be used as empowerment for ourselves and compassion for others. In addition, Schurer aims to capitalize on the intimacy of a small college campus where compassion for others is present.
“When you have a mutual foundation of compassion, respect and understanding, you’re more likely to create a natural dialogue about the issues that are facing the campus,” he said.
The MeetMidd process involves soliciting stories and photos from members of the first-year class. Schurer reaches out to his classmates with an online document asking them to share any anecdote about themselves, in addition to their hometown, commons, academic interests and other personal interests.
On the surface, it seems that MeetMidd has similarities to photographer Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” project, which he started in 2010. However, Schurer clarifies some of the differences. New York City is a large city, and Middlebury’s small community enables its constituents to read a story on MeetMidd and potentially see the subject the next day.
“People are not only reading the posts, but they’re internalizing what they read and doing something about it,” Schurer said. In addition, Humans of New York is often comprised of extemporaneous stories, whereas MeetMidd features stories where the subjects have time to prepare.
Schurer believes that so far, his project has made first-years’ transition to college easier by making it easier to reach out to others and relate to them.
“I think it’s helped people realize that we’re not so different from one another, and it has led to new friendships,” he said. “When you read something about someone on MeetMidd, it undermines some of the preconceived notions that you’ve developed about a person. It helps you learn about them from their own voice.”
In the future, Schurer hopes to represent the entire Class of 2021 and 2021.5 by featuring all of its around 750 members on MeetMidd. He also hopes to expand a similar storytelling model to other aspects of the Middlebury campus, including the administration, faculty and staff.
“In that sense, I’m very excited for the future,” Schurer said, as he hopes to make it more than a first-year project. He also envisions working with different student groups to use similar methods to showcase various people in the community.
With many responsibilities on campus, one may wonder how Schurer balances his commitments.
“I only participate in what I love” he said. “I would never do something if it felt like a tremendous burden to me. If you love what you’re doing you always find a way to make it possible.”
Those wishing to keep up with the project can find @meetmidd on Facebook on Instagram and visit the website at meetmidd.weebly.com. Schurer would like to thank all the students who have participated so far and would also like to express gratitude to his supporters.
“It goes a long way,” he said.
Schurer believes that MeetMidd helps build a strong community at Middlebury through compassion, respect, understanding and kindness. He also thinks that his community building movement will help people realize that they are all imperfect and that is absolutely acceptable. Justifying that what Middlebury needs more than anything is a strong community, Schurer said “[his] intention is to begin with MeetMidd and show everyone why our community is worth fighting for.”