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Brown articulated: student podcasters in the time of COVID-19

Quarantine prompts students to develop, explore auditory projects old and new

The pandemic has done little to stop the outpouring of creativity from Brown students. During this period of remote learning, a number of students have turned to podcasting — telling audio stories or simply engaging in recorded conversation. Others with pre-existing podcasts have pivoted their themes to respond to the ongoing public health crisis. 

Time alone during lockdown gave Haley Joyce ’23 space to reflect on the difficulties of her first semester as a freshman.  And those challenges, she realized, were not uncommon. “I thought that making a podcast would provide a voice or an outlet for people who also felt like they were struggling but weren’t getting that narrative in their immediate circle,” she said.

Her podcast “Unfiltered” has been releasing new episodes every week since March. Joyce’s podcast is intended to be completely unfiltered: an honest exposition of her thoughts and feelings about issues or events she’s experienced.

A large following “isn’t the goal; the goal is to help people,” Joyce said. “My dream is to help someone, and I think the podcast does do that.”

Anya Li ’22 started podcasting with the hope of connecting with others and talking about experiences starkly different to her own.

“Show-N-Tell” resulted from Li’s desire to capture the life stories she heard as she met new people during her freshman and sophomore years. “They were such amazing stories and I wanted to share them with other people,” Li said. COVID-19 and the quarantine simply offered a good time for her to start.

Li started by interviewing friends, but ended each interview by asking her guest for a suggestion of who she should interview next. This led her to a chain of people to invite to her podcast. 

“I didn’t have to try hard to find people who were that interesting,” she told The Herald. 

This neverending list of potential subjects, “is intrinsic to Brown … as a place where people all over the world with different backgrounds, from different cultures … are all coming together,” she said.

“You can’t really know somebody until you sit down with them and go through their life,” Li said. She hopes that her listeners realize, as she did, that “there’s so much depth to everyone.”

“Everyone has such a unique story, and the environment that you were brought up in has such a huge impact on who you are … not only in the way you view the world but also the way that you view yourself,” Li added. 

Joyce said that quarantine only improved her podcasting experience. She’s had more time on her hands and also “a type of community that I couldn’t get from my daily life.”

Joyce joined an online group of podcasters that called every week to exchange tips and ideas. Now, she finds herself putting 8 to 10 hours a week into the “labor of love.” 

The time she puts into the podcast has allowed Joyce to reflect more critically on the content she’s creating. Asking herself questions like, “What am I posting? Is it useful?”

“Unfiltered” isn’t the only podcast that is evolving its content since quarantine. “Tu Be Or Not Tu Be, a podcast co-founded and hosted by Stephanie Tu ’22 and her sister, has also taken a hiatus as Tu considers rebranding.

“Our first couple of episodes were a test run,” she said. “Now we’re trying to be more purposeful about the things we’re putting out.”

The podcast began simply as a conversation between two sisters who had “always wanted to start a podcast,” Tu said.  Both were avid listeners of a variety of podcasts, and one day, stuck at home together, they decided to make one of their own.,  “I was just determined to do it,” Tu said.

 The podcast has no theme. Instead, the sisters discuss a selected topic each week — resulting in a variety that is clear to any listener who scrolls through their episodes. From taking personality tests to trying out seltzers, the podcast is “a record of memorable conversations” between the two.

After the resurgence of national conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer, the sisters felt that it was important to speak up, discussing how they felt Asian Americans could participate in the movement. “We wanted it ... to be informative,” Tu explained, “but not overstep boundaries as well.”

Now, Tu and her sister decided to flit in between comedic and serious episodes, maintaining a “space where we can speak freely and have fun,” but also “have open conversations about our experiences.” 

While many podcasts have begun as a result of the pandemic, students that have long-established existing podcasts have had to adapt to the new situation that COVID-19 has put them in.

Viknesh Kasthuri ’21 and Alexander Homer ’21 started co-hosting the podcast “Back of the Chart” in the spring of 2019. Primarily aimed at pre-medical and medical students before they start clinical rotations, the podcast is about doctor-patient relationships and “the art of medicine,” Kasthuri said. 

“You hear a lot about the science of medicine,” said Kasthuri, “but you hear less about the art of medicine. What does it mean to actually ‘doctor’? What does it mean to build (doctor-patient) relationships? What do those relationships look like?” 

Though their intended audience was students, their listeners are dominantly physicians. 

“Folks we’ve spoken to have really enjoyed it,” Kasthuri said. “Surprisingly it was physicians who really enjoyed the podcast. … It reaffirms the reasons you go into medicine.”

While the campus shut down in March and time zone differences initially made making new episodes more difficult, Kasthuri and Homer have now released an entire second season.

For Kasthuri, finding a recording space wasn’t easy — on his end, much of the podcast became “narrations from the closet.” But, even with these obstacles, Kasthuri said that “the quality is still there.”

However, given current circumstances, the possibilities of a third season have been put on hold. 

“We’re not planning on recording, at least not this semester,” Kasthuri said. The recording spaces they used to utilize in the Rockefeller Library are too small to allow Kasthuri, Homer and their guest speakers to fit while complying with social distancing guidelines.

“We’re working on a different project right now,” Kasthuri added, “and may return to the podcast once things clear up.” 

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Kasthuri's name in the last reference. The Herald regrets the error.


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