Article author Kelsey MacCuaig

A human connection

Words by Kelsey MacCuaig
Photography by Christina Riches

Day after day, I wander through the halls that witness my academic journey as a Mount Royal University student. Making note of little more than the screen in my hand, I walk from one class to another, staring at my phone, replying to unanswered text messages and ensuring that I am up to speed on the well-being of everyone — friends and strangers alike.

It seems more and more the norm is that our connections are stored in the palms of our hands.

Rather than making personal bonds, we increasingly resort to screening the social media profiles of our peers to learn more about them. I myself am guilty of this. I have roamed Mount Royal’s halls for several years, feeling linked to my classmates through social media, but often seeking a deeper connection than what 140 characters on Twitter, or a snapshot of life on Instagram, could ever supply.

“This culture of silence that we have created makes us crave authenticity,” says Caroline McDonald-Harker, PhD, professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “We gravitate toward stories or people that normalize our own experiences — this is why initiatives such as Humans of Mount Royal University (HOMRU) and the Living Library are so important.”

— Caroline McDonald-Harker, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

HOMRU and the Living Library are initiatives facilitated by the Department of Diversity and Human Rights. Inspired by the popular Instagram and Facebook page Humans of New York, HOMRU provides a platform for the Mount Royal community to share their unique stories — either publicly or anonymously — on social media. The Living Library is literally a repository of cool folks one can sign out like a book and chat with.

When McDonald-Harker describes society’s craving for “authenticity” over social media, she is essentially referring to what the experts call “pseudo-connectivity.”

“The difficulty lies within the superficial reality that social media has created,” she says. “It has created a different type of community within our society. And, the lack of personalization and authenticity has perpetuated a culture of silence.”

We use these public platforms to create a persona that highlights our best selves — whether that’s a realistic portrayal of who we are, or, of what we’re trying to sell to others. This lack of veracity has resulted in a sense of intrigue toward platforms such as HOMRU, because they’re different. HOMRU offers a less processed and more authentic experience, and attracts us because it’s an area where students, faculty and staff at Mount Royal share personal stories.

Kevin Padillo

Bachelor of Business Administration — Marketing student, Mount Royal University

From gang life to student life

I first learned of Kevin Padillo from perusing HOMRU (again on my phone, head down). The Mount Royal Marketing major was featured alongside many other students — his photo captures a seemingly ordinary student, but dive deeper and his story stands out from the rest.

In 2010, at the age of 17, Padillo was a member of the notorious FOB gang. Stemming from his gang activities, Padillo was arrested for home invasion and spent the next 3½ years behind the walls of the Calgary Young Offender Centre. Now a student in the Bissett School of Business, Padillo is sharing his story with the campus community in the hope of inspiring change within his own community.

On Jan. 27, Mount Royal hosted its inaugural Living Library event. Padillo was on loan, and I decided to take the big plunge and get away from my phone to meet this real person.

“I’m not proud of what I did — what I put my family through,” he told me. “But I spent a lot of time with my counsellor. He taught me things about myself, opened my eyes to my dreams and aspirations. Eventually, I finished high school and became a mentor to the other youths (at the Young Offender Centre),” Padillo says.

“We all have our own baggage, it’s what makes us unique.”

— Kevin Padillo, MRU student

Platforms such as the Living Library create a safe space for individuals to share stories in the hopes of shedding some light on the diverse backgrounds and experiences that led people to Mount Royal. Other speakers at the first event included a student who survived the Rwandan genocide and an Olympian who beat breast cancer.

Through this experience, I’ve come to realize the true value of human connection. I was drawn to Padillo’s story because of its authenticity. In some way, although completely different, his experiences helped to normalize mine. These two initiatives have not only opened my eyes to the connections I have missed, but to the connections I have yet to make.