Brianna Zúñiga: What Does She Know?
Could you explain What Does She Know's mission and why it was started?
I started What Does She Know? during one of my lowest points. During the summer of my first year at Columbia, I felt like a complete and total failure. While everyone around me was either landing impressive internships and summer opportunities, or lavishly traveling the world, I had nothing to show. I spent the summer, subletting a room in an apartment with strangers, and working on campus to make ends meet. I spent most days copying and stapling papers in one of the back rooms of Lerner Hall. At the time, my mental health had also taken a bit of a tumble, and just lost health insurance. I felt directionless in seeking help in almost all areas of my life.
The one thing that kept me going throughout my work days was listening to podcasts. This long-time enjoyment of mine resparked when I felt my loneliest; podcasts were the closest thing I had to interpersonal connection in a solitary work room. The idea of starting a podcast of my own, however, came from the realization that all of the podcasts I listened to came from already established people: experts, personalities, journalists. I had yet to find a podcast from someone struggling, someone who hadn’t yet “made it.” And maybe for my own self-involved reasons, I felt like I had a lot to say about failing.
How has your identity shaped the way you interact with the world? How does this actively change the topics you choose to address and the way you organize your podcast?
I think I’ve been very lucky to always feel like I had a platform to story-tell as a child. I soon realized, however, that my immediate community was not representative of the world at large. I grew up in a low-income home with my Argentinian mother in West Palm Beach, Florida. We lived states away from my father, about whom I knew few things: he was a charming black man who sang, and he was from New Hampshire. In comparison to the two-parent families that surrounded my mom and me, we didn’t have much, but my mother never made our lives feel anything less than abundant.
At the age of sixteen, I was granted the opportunity to transfer from public education to a private boarding arts school in Massachusetts, but boy was it hard. I had never seen so much wealth, and so much whiteness. I never thought anything of my identity until then. I had never realized how minuscule my voice could become under the thumb of wealth and race. I had also never realized how much I had skirted the issue of identity as a racially ambiguous/non-black appearing woman in an entirely POC community in South Florida. And I think for those exact reasons ––watching just how muted people and their stories can become and seeing how my platform rose and fell due to my income, ambiguity, privileges or the environments in which I resided–– I wanted to provide platforms for others to sit down, feel comfortable, maybe laugh a little, and share stories.
What are the future goals of What Does She Know?
For better or for worse, my goals for the podcast are quite immediate. Creators and thinkers I’ve wanted to interview for a while now. New segments, new episode structure, maybe some new cover art. To be honest, I don’t think I’d enjoy the podcast if it weren’t low stakes.
Why is civic activism important, especially in the current political climate? Why is it important for youth to provide and share storytelling platforms?
Oral stories, as the oldest form of storytelling, have shown to be the most prolific forms of incentivizing people to feel. Yes, community organizing, legal studies, and political activism are all vital components of change; however, at the root of civic engagement is interpersonal connection. And to connect, we share stories. For me, this podcast is the best way I know how to engage. Now I know my podcast, in its current form, isn’t necessarily breaking down social systems and combating the largest political issues, but I think communicating and connecting with people is the only way I know how to go about some kind of change.
For any young creators of entrepreneurs, what is your advice for pursuing a project like yours?
While I feel in absolutely no place to be giving anyone advice, it seems pretty on the nose to endorse failure. Here’s the part where I insert the quote about failure not being the opposite of success but a byproduct. But in all seriousness, I think the biggest obstacle I faced in feeling confident enough in my own voice, in my ability to pull this damn thing off, and to get some kind of following, was the judgement of others. I was anxious about, what now feels so insignificant; people thinking I was stupid for thinking anyone would listen, stupid for self-promoting my project, etc. etc. One way or another, people listen! If it’s to listen to hate on the podcast or to support, people listen! And the only way I allowed the podcast to get to where it is now was to run the risk of completely and utterly flopping.