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Podcasting from an empty campus

A profile of one of the COVID-19 Creative Community Response Grant projects.

The Office of Vice President for the Arts has created a grant program that cultivates artistic engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Creative Community Response Grant is open to students, faculty and staff, in recognition of the impact COVID-19 has had on the entire Stanford community and the need for everyone to find new modes of self-expression, communication and connection. Grants are awarded on a rolling deadline until May 10, 2020. Several projects have already begun to take shape, providing the Stanford community novel means of coping with and even thriving in the COVID-19 reality.

A podcast series by Comeup Collective is one of the projects that bring the Stanford community a little closer even as people must remain far apart.

Project profile

Members of the Comeup Collective in the atrium of the Department of Art and Arts History McMurtry Building. Photo courtesy of the collective.

The Comeup Collective launched its first podcast on Mar. 11, 2020. Its four members, Garry Archbold, Mamadou Diallo, Mekhi Jones, and Sheck Mulbah, all seniors, wanted to create a platform for people of color to share their experiences at Stanford. By the second episode, posted on Mar. 21, they were podcasting from a largely empty campus.

“We discuss topics related to college lifestyle, identity and community. First generation and low-income individuals typically aren’t allowed to take on creative ventures like these because they must prioritize financial security. We are here to show folks that they can do both,” says Jones.

The first episode focuses on the students’ personal stories about growing up in working-class and impoverished neighborhoods. Through friendly rapport and playful barbs they probe each other’s identities, reference and dismantle stereotypes, express frustrations and gratitude, and, in the end, provide an unfiltered glimpse into their lives.

“We want to build a community for people who have similar experiences, whether they are first-generation college students or professionals who have had non-traditional paths and are navigating cultures and spaces that their parents didn’t,” says Jones.

After Stanford required all undergraduate students to move off-campus for the spring quarter, provided they were able to, the four Comeup Collective members were allowed to remain, in socially distant living quarters. Now podcasting at Stanford from a safe distance, with new microphones purchased with funding from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant, the Collective offers first-hand insight into what sheltering in place during COVID-19 is like for students who remain on desolated campuses and cannot return home.

“Our podcast naturally opens up the discussion to these new COVID-19 realities like home and food insecurity of loved ones, mental and physical health, and overall well-being,” says Jones. Through the lens of their lives, they shine a light on communities that face increased hardship during this time. Their podcast is a document of life on a very quiet campus that still thirsts for self-expression, new voices, and community-building. Their record of this point in history will remain as an important first-hand account of the physical, psychological and emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Episodes are released on Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcast, with additional video components found on their YouTube channel. The next episode will be posted April 26 and the following episodes will be released every Saturday through mid-June.