Freshmen Julia An and Kylie Ning and junior Zach Wheeler recently launched the An Excuse to Talk podcast project on Spotify and iTunes. Each of the two currently available episodes feature short answers by unnamed Hopkins students to open-ended questions posed to them by the staff.
In a joint interview with The News-Letter, An, Ning and Wheeler spoke about their vision for the project, how they actually produce it and the challenges of adapting it to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The creators agreed that one of the most rewarding parts of the project has been the honesty and passion that their participants have demonstrated.
“We just wanted to do something fun to connect students and make people laugh. At Hopkins, it’s difficult to talk to people you’ve never met before,” Wheeler said. “We have similar interests among our different backgrounds, but it’s still so awkward. This gives us an excuse to just walk up to random people.”
The creators said that they had met as a group through one of Wheeler’s other podcast projects, the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs. Whereas the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs consists of in-depth interviews with professors, Wheeler said that the goal of An Excuse to Talk is to spotlight students and their unique experiences.
Ning believes that this will help strengthen the Hopkins community.
“Hopkins isn’t a mean campus, but it’s not a super engaging, open, energetic or enthusiastic campus,” Ning said.
An hopes that circulating the stories that An Excuse to Talk gathers can help students get to know each other.
“We wanted to get to know the community together,” An said. “It’s hard for people to branch out from their friend groups.”
Their original plan to collect stories, the creators explained, was to set up a field recording studio in different public areas around the campus each week. They would then ask passersby if they would like to contribute to the project and answer some of their questions.
Ning described how this process went and the variability of asking random students for responses.
“We set up in Levering Kitchens, outside of Brody and on the Beach. When we went around to people, some people would take a while to open up, while some were very eager to answer,” Ning said.
This production style, however, was made impossible by the University’s decision to suspend all undergraduate activities on campus last month.
This led the creators to explore various strategies for eliciting virtual participation. What they settled on was to publish the question on their Instagram story and ask people to record and send in their own submissions.
Wheeler recalled some of the difficulties with this method of collection.
“At first it seemed like virtual could be easier, but face-to-face interaction helps a lot,“ he said. “People have the time, but you have to poke them to talk... [and now it’s] difficult to poke people in the same way.”
Ning wishes for An Excuse To Talk to allow students to recognize the need to take an interest in their peers’ lives.
“We hope that among themselves, more people can talk to each other and open up conversations based on our questions,” she said.
In separate interviews with The News-Letter, some participants shared their experience appearing on the podcast.
Sophomore Evan Morris stated that he very much enjoyed being a participant.
“I enjoyed it, and I’d totally do it again,“ he said. “I’d even make a point to show up to Levering if they were doing it again. It was fun.”
Sophomore Darsh Patel, who also participated in the first episode, shared his thoughts on the podcast in an email to The News-Letter.
“I loved being on the show and being able to share an experience of mine from my freshman year that really meant a lot to me and shaped my life at Hopkins as a whole,” Patel wrote. “I think ‘An Excuse to Talk’ is a great way to get meaningful conversation going between Hopkins students in a way the campus hasn’t really seen before.”