Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 7:39 pm | Fair 64º


Local News

‘People of Isla Vista’ Photo Project Aims to Put Community in Positive Light

UCSB students Liz Montgomery, Surna Khayat and Jamelia Harris tell local stories through portraits; their effort has become an official campus organization

Biking around the streets of Isla Vista, three 20-somethings stumbled upon a kind homeless man, two playful young brothers giggling in a tree and a college-age woman who spontaneously belted out a song of her own creation.

The UC Santa Barbara students were looking for stories to show and tell through portraits, trying to build a better sense of community and to dispel the misconception that drinking, partying and violence are all that happen in the diverse, densely populated area near the university.

If the concept sounds familiar, that’s because the recently launched local rendition is modeled after Humans of New York.

That project, which involves photographing and interviewing people on the streets of New York, resonated with UCSB students Liz Montgomery, Surna Khayat and Jamelia Harris.

The trio created “People of Isla Vista” Facebook and Instagram pages over the summer for an Education 173 leadership development course, which urged its 40 students to focus group projects on ways to positively change something in Isla Vista, especially in lieu of last spring’s tragic shooting and stabbing rampage.

“We’re trying to show that IV isn’t just the students here,” said Khayat, a senior English major and education minor. “We have to build trust in the community.”

The project-based course has been taught at UCSB for decades, traditionally producing campus efforts, such as book-sharing programs, said Don Lubach, the associate dean of students who taught the class.

“The community is often not sure of UCSB students,” Lubach said, pointing toward his students. “What I liked was you always got close and got people to say things.”

Gathered near the border between campus and Isla Vista this week, the People of Isla Vista founders fondly remembered using iPhone cameras before switching to more professional equipment. They collected stories, names and photographs, posting them on social media — garnering 500 followers in just the first three weeks.

“We would literally walk the streets of Isla Vista and hope someone interesting would walk out,” said Harris, a third-year black studies and sociology major. “You just see how much joy it brings them to have someone listen to their story.”

People of Isla Vista now has more than 1,400 Facebook followers, about 65 posts and has just become UCSB’s 501st student organization, with Lubach as its adviser.

The founders want to invite more students to participate in a movement they hope will remind some to be more respectful of the community they share with families, business owners and others.

Montgomery, a senior global studies major, thinks the pages could change the image of her community by giving a face to fellow Isla Vista inhabitants.

“Social media is amazing,” she said. “We just want to change the image. There’s just so much more to IV.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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