ICONfront Casual Interview: Meet Our Co-founders!

Hi everyone. 2020 is coming to a close, and we hope you are all doing well.  
In the past five weeks, we released interview articles introducing several ICONfront members.

This week, we interviewed Rhea Endo and Mao Ota, who are co-founders of ICONfront. They talked about how they started ICONfront, how they feel about ICONfront’s activities since April, what message they want to send to society, and what they would like to try next. 

Read the full article to find out!

Q1. What does ICONfront do?

ICONfront provides a  platform that highlights the activities of ICU student activists. We interview activists at ICU who work on a variety of social issues and release interview articles. We also host discussion events inviting activists. 

The name “ICONfront” is a combination of three words, “Icon,” “Confront,” and “Front,” and it stands for confronting world issues and working on solutions on the front line of society. 

Q2. When did you start this activity? 

Mao: I think we had this idea since the winter semester of my sophomore year (December,2019). Chisato (a former ICONfront member), Rhea, and I were talking in the Gakki (ICU cafeteria) and agreed it would be cool if we could start a new student organisation. I think it was around the end of March when we launched our social media and first interviewed an activist. At that time, since the pandemic had just started and our university was closed, we didn’t have to work on a tight schedule and were able to start our activities without any time constraints. 

Rhea: That’s right. I do remember that we started brainstorming in the winter semester, and around spring break, we went into more detailed planning. 

Q3. Please tell us why you wanted to start ICONfront? 

Rhea: I already mentioned this in my ICONfront member introduction, but I felt that there weren’t many opportunities for ICU student activists to get to know each other or to propagate their own activities to students, despite the fact that there were so many activists in ICU. As I myself was an activist, I always felt this was an obstacle. Even if an activist walks by another activist, they would not realize that the other person is an activist. This is frustrating because even if when there are passionate students, they do not know how to transform their passion into actions and are not able to start their activities. So, we decided to create ICONfront and build a platform where both students and ICU student activists are able to find other ICU student activists. 

Mao: I think the common preconceptions of ICU revolve around education, such as critical thinking and being fluent in English, and the university as an institution, like small class sizes. However, being good at English or discussion are not only things ICU students are capable of; there are so many students who are working on social issues. I was so surprised by this fact. Since I am a part of a debate club at university, I was interested in social issues, but since ICU’s club orientation did not feature student activists and students’ activism, it was not made visible, and I wanted to have more opportunities to get to know ICU student activists. 

Q4. What was your reason for deciding to write interview articles? 

I think the reason was that interviews were the easiest way to get to know the activist’s work. Also, interview articles are accessible to a broader audience, and we can empathize with the activists’ motivations and feelings behind their activities through reading the articles. 

Q5. How did you feel when you were launching ICONfront? 

Mao: When we just started, we were trying to figure everything out. We talked together a lot, consolidated our visions and activities, and created the base for our website. I remember that we were excited about starting a new thing, but at the same time we were worried about how we could engage in this activity in the long run. Since this was a new experience for us, there was so much we didn’t know about, such as how to establish a new group and how to start a new website and how to organize our social media pages. 

Rhea: We were just trying to work everything out. There were some concerns, like how we could make ICONfront more visible to students and how we could find activists. But we enjoyed the process of shaping our ideas into reality, and we started it with excitement. Also, since all three of us were in the same grade, it was easier for us to communicate with each other. 

Q6. When do you feel a sense of accomplishment? 

Mao: I feel a sense of accomplishment when the number of viewers on our website and social media pages increases, but I feel happier when our readers tell us they enjoyed our articles, and when our articles reach a wider audience thanks to our friends’ shares. Recently, we are doing our interviews online, and there was one time I was asked how we do our activities online by an activist. Since we strive to accumulate information, I was happy to provide them with some advice. 

Rhea: I think I feel fulfilled when getting to know new activities and being able to share the activists’ messages to ICU students through writing articles. One of the biggest challenges activists face is making their activities more visible to a wider range of people, so I feel honoured that we can help them increase their visibility even if our support is minimal. Also, it makes me so happy to see the increasing number of readers and I realize we are actually able to convey the activists’ work and their passion to our readers. There are still areas to improve on ourselves, so I’m eager to continue our interviews and release more articles to reach more people. 

Q7. What have you found through your activities and what message would you like to say to ICU students? 

Mao: First, what I have found is that there are so many students who are actively working on social issues in ICU. Through our interviews, I’ve also realized that the fields they work in are very diverse. Since activists that I’d previously known were mostly gender activists, I initially thought there would be more gender activists than those in other fields, but that was not the case. Second, because of the pandemic, I’ve found it challenging to create opportunities to connect student activists and other students. 

Rhea: Adding onto Mao’s point, I’ve also realized that there are more activists in ICU than I’d expected. This is a good opportunity for me to learn from the activists’ stories because their work is very diverse–there are, for example, those who are working in student groups, those who are working individually, and those who are working outside ICU. I would like more ICU students to know about this. 

Moreover, though there are activists who had to take a hiatus from their activities because of the pandemic, there are also some activists who started new activities because of this current circumstance. I found this very interesting. 

Q8. What would you like to tell society? 

Rhea: When hearing the word, “activism,” many people imagine making a huge change in society through large-scaled activities. However, small acts that you can do also count as activism. This is what I would like to tell society and this is what many activists we interviewed also say. The important thing is to create chain reactions; someone’s small actions lead to another person taking small actions, which then leads to another person’s small actions. What we see about activism from the mass media, such as TV and social media, only display a fraction of real activism. I think activism that supports other activism, like what ICONfront does, is also important. 

The more opportunities you have to learn, the more your norms are dismantled. I would like more ICU students to experience the joy of learning and accepting something new. 

 Mao: As Rhea mentioned, I also want to dismantle norms. Sometimes, people associate violent and extremist images with activism, but in reality, there are so many activists who are kind and friendly. As Kisaki Saishu, whom we interviewed before, mentioned, encouraging and empowering your close friend is also an important part of activism. 

What I would like to tell ICU students is that our four years of undergraduate studies should be unrestrained. It’d be better to constrain yourself less to the notion that doing activism is a disadvantage and doing a long-term internship is an advantage to job-hunting. I would like ICU students to engage in activism more casually without caring too much about what would be helpful for their job-hunting. 

Q9. What would you like to try next? 

Mao: Recently, one of our interview articles was featured on the ICU Portal (ICU’s website for students) thanks to Professor Makito Kobayashi. ICONfront has been focusing on student activists, but I think this is good timing for us to extend our focus. I would like to interview professors and alumni too. I am also interested in hosting events in the future as well. 
Rhea: I would like to interview a great many more ICU student activists and expand the circle of activism at ICU. If students are interested in social issues, I hope that they would first turn to ICONfront. We will continue our activities to achieve this level of recognition.

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