In Fifth Season, UAlbany Student Stories Podcast Educates and Entertains

Five young people dressed in pink sit around a table topped with microphones, headphones and a Dell computer. They smile at the camera.
Clockwise from left: UAlbany students Ryan Pare, Alyssa Roman, Sarai Lewis, Sophia Smith and Bianca Zazzarini-León pose for a portrait while recording an episode of UAlbany Student Stories about the Barbie movie. (Photo provided)

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 12, 2023) — In season 5, episode 5 of UAlbany Student Stories, a podcast by students for students, a conversation about the Barbie movie got the students thinking aloud about patriarchal standards of beauty and perfectionism.

Alyssa Roman, a senior human biology major interviewed for the episode, recalled the pressure her mother always felt to maintain perfect hair, makeup and clothes.

“When we’re at the house, she still feels the need to wear the makeup and everything,” she said. “And I know she’s perfect. I will tell her all the time she’s perfect. But it’s the world that we live in that wants her to wear the makeup 24/7.”

Host Bianca Zazzarini-León, a doctoral candidate studying Latin American literature and culture, said the Caribbean beauty standards her mom grew up with affected her, as well.

“I had to straighten my hair,” she said. “Even if I didn’t want to, I had to have my hair straight. It wasn’t until I went to college where I was like, OK, I’m not gonna straighten my hair anymore. But maintaining the perfect figure, always going out with the perfect amount of makeup, the perfect clothing, it was just very extreme.”

Discussion of serious subject matter infused with personal storytelling, like in the Barbie episode released last month, has become a hallmark of UAlbany Student Stories, a student-led podcast started in 2019 by Carmen Serrano, associate professor and director of the Spanish Program in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Now in its fifth season, the podcast has continued its tradition of capturing oral histories of UAlbany students who often find themselves on the periphery of higher education and society.

This season, hosts Zazzarini-León, Ryan Pare and Sophia Smith interviewed students about their experiences studying abroad, growing up in multicultural households, the practice of resistance and resilience through the art of bookmaking, living with disabilities, and the impacts of patriarchy on women in leadership roles.

“There's something for everybody,” said Smith, a senior majoring in Japanese and Spanish. “Maybe you don't need to listen to every episode, but perhaps there's a topic we've shed light on that could help with whatever someone is struggling with. And for students who are wanting to share their own story, I think it's just so important that there's inspiration.”

In addition to providing a venue for students to share stories in their own voice, the podcast aims to shed light on current events and issues in a way that is more engaging than mainstream news, said Pare, a senior majoring in communication.

“I think it’s more palatable for people our age,” he said. “For me, in particular, looking at the news can get so boring and depressing. Our goal is not to bore you with 100 million facts or tell you these tragic stories. Our goal is to educate through conversational storytelling.”

In a Nov. 6 episode titled, “How disability friendly is UAlbany,” student Sasha Chattergoon shared some of the stigmas she’s faced as a person who uses a wheelchair, such as the automatic assumption that she’s paralyzed or sick.

“I grew up thinking that I was fine, like literally in my mind, I am fine, this is my life,” she said. “But other people will be like, ‘Oh, I feel so sorry for you, God bless you,’ and I’m like, I’m OK, thank you though.”

Chattergoon, who transferred to UAlbany from SUNY Schenectady and hopes to one day start her own foundation connecting people with disabilities to accommodations, said she also grows frustrated by people who try to be her friend for “brownie points.”

“I grew up with people just wanting to be my friend so they could get popularity out of it,” she said. “And I'm just like, I don't want that because I can tell when people just kind of pity me.”

Since its start in 2019, the podcast has debuted a new season each semester, featuring roughly six episodes, with the exception of a two-year pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working on the podcast has allowed students to build the technical skills required of producing a podcast, as well as storytelling, editing and even social skills.

When Serrano, who executive produces and edits the podcast, first asked Smith if she wanted to co-host this season of the podcast, Smith recalled initially feeling hesitant.

“It was something I had never done,” she said. “I have no experience really with being social and I was a little timid at first. But finally I said, why not? I want to test myself. I want to challenge myself.”

Download UAlbany Student Stories on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.