Black FLI Stanford sophomores weigh in on ‘What’s Big’ in new podcast

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From the moment they hit record, the lively personalities of the 2020 podcast “What’s Big, Sweetie?” break down everything from COVID-19 and quarantine activities to their experiences at Stanford as young Black FLI (first-generation and/or low income) women — the topics often appear boundless. Take, for instance, episode two, where you can tune into Linda Denson ’23 and Tyah-Amoy Roberts ’23 discussing “Dat Rona,” TikTok fame and Stanford’s purse: “Regarding our podcast name, if you’re wondering ‘What’s Big?,’ it’s Stanford’s endowment,” Roberts joked. “Precisely,” Denson added.

Coated in a layer of light mockery and straightforward analysis, all eight episodes of the podcast are uniquely entertaining and informative on FLI experiences, popular culture and, well, what’s deemed “Big.” Hitting it off as Ujamaa House residents their freshman year, the duo’s affinity for cracking jokes alongside some coaxing from friends inspired collaboration on a new level. 

“We were always together, which is why everybody would always ask us to do a podcast. If you’d see me, you’d see Linda, and if you’d see Linda, you saw Tyah, and we were always making jokes,” Roberts told The Daily.

Though they only recorded one episode in person prior to campus evacuations and remote instruction, the co-hosts were quick to rekindle their efforts from afar, launching the pilot in mid-March. Each over-the-phone recording session in this period has helped bridge their physical gap — Denson is a New Orleans native, and Roberts, originally from Florida, lives in the Bahamas. 

“The day I got back home, I was so bored, and I was missing everything, so I was like, ‘I guess I’ll just drop [the first episode], and then I’ll force Tyah to talk to me,’” Denson admitted. “She’s right — I don’t like being on the phone. So she was like, ‘This is how I’m gonna make her talk,’” Roberts laughed.  

This sense of humor holds both a cold and witty dynamic that pervades each discussion: In episode three, as the co-hosts consider Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health status and the prospect of Trump filling Supreme Court seats with Republicans if he were to be reelected, Roberts jests, saying, “It’s vote Blue [in November] or get your tubes tied, at this point.” 

Riding on infectious jokes like this, the “What’s Big, Sweetie?” following has grown notably with time. Not only has the pair’s audience flooded them with verbal encouragement, but some listeners have bolstered their work monetarily. After receiving Venmo payments following the release of their two initial episodes, the duo’s podcast morphed into both an outlet for honest comedy and minor cash flow. “I thought it was great; I wasn’t expecting people to actually listen to [us] because I always feel like we’re talking into a void. So I was like, ‘Oh my gosh … maybe I should think more about what I say since people are actually listening now,’” Roberts said. “But I was really excited to get Venmo requests because that’s always nice as a FLI student. I was [also] excited to hear that people were interested in what two FLI Black women had to say, especially since it was very clear very early on that we were not holding our tongues about anything in particular.” 

Unrestricted language is what makes “What’s Big, Sweetie?” a standout, and it comes organically to both Roberts and Denson with the support of those surrounding them. “There are people in place, whether that be like upperclassmen, people that I see as mentors or professors that I could name, who just would not have it if Stanford [had] backlash about our podcast, and so it’s things like that motivate me to keep saying exactly what it is that I mean,” Roberts reflected. “There obviously are going to be people who don’t like what we say, and my parents warn me all the time of that, [but] I simply am not listening. I know that I’ve gotten this far in life, and I got to Stanford, by not holding my tongue. This is just the space that I occupy, and I’m going to keep doing that regardless.”

The duo’s unfiltered voices also propelled the podcast’s primary surge after they recorded a reaction to a racist incident within Stanford’s faculty in late April. The subject of this episode, a guest lecturer addressing a virtual comparative studies in race and ethnicity (CSRE) class, casually said the N-word while quoting famed hip hop group N.W.A. After pinpointing a tweet describing the affair, the pair weighed in, peppering their remarks with a sharp humor. “We have the class recording because it’s corona; the Zoom lectures are recorded.” Denson said. “We have receipts,” Roberts tossed in. “You’re on camera, babe. Smile!” Denson added. 

These quips augment and often define the podcast, but each episode holds its fair share of serious discussion as well. Touching on a breadth of topics, from Black liberation and politics to misogynoir and colorism, Denson and Roberts bear blunt honesty in their comments, regardless of who may be listening. Off the bat in their pilot, Denson recalls joking that “What’s Big, Sweetie?” is a “Black woman’s podcast,” but its audience has greatly expanded from there. 

“We have one listener somewhere out in Germany who just watches and listens to every podcast, so shout out to that listener, because we’re international because of them and them only,” Roberts smirked. “But in general, yeah, we’ve expanded: At first, I think it was just Black women who were listening to us, but we’ve been having a lot of talks generally in the Stanford Black community about listening to women and being more receptive to arguments that are going to make you uncomfortable, so I think a lot of different people have been tuning in because of those conversations. It seems like many are coming to our podcast with the intention to learn, and I think that that is a very beautiful thing — I hope that we’re teaching them something.”

Though those engaging with the podcast may identify with various genders and races, neither Roberts nor Denson feel a need to acclimate their words, for such candid discourse “offers the most opportunity for learning,” according to Roberts. 

“In general, it is ineffective to tailor Blackness to a different audience. I just have to give you my experience, and you learn from it or you don’t,” she said. “This podcast is just me genuinely talking to Linda, Black woman to Black woman, because that is the most effective way — one, for Black women to feel validated and to know that people are thinking the same thing that they’re thinking. And two, that is the most authentic way to hear a genuine opinion — I can’t tailor it to make a man feel better. I can’t tailor it to make a white woman feel better. I can’t tailor it to make a non-Black person of color feel better because that’s not the truth: The truth is what I’m giving to you raw as a first-generation, low-income Black woman.”

To Denson, this unique lens afforded by the pair makes the podcast both amusing and didactic, but can also help listeners recognize their distinct life experiences. “To me, it was always about hoping that people understand that the things that may come up to them [in] an Instagram story … are the [realities] of a lot of Black women. This is the state of our lives, to exist under a society that is so evasively engaged in misogynoir… So if people can hear something new or realize that this is real and have this issue feminized, that’s all I would want. I think that’s [already] happened because some of our most loyal supporters are non-Black people and men, and those people are genuinely here for the ride, and are here to be educated.”  

Though the podcast’s accessible nature is convenient for sequestered listeners affected by ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, uncertainty looms over when Roberts and Denson may record in person again. Regardless, the two have new intentions as the fall quarter rolls in: “The plan is for ‘What’s Big, Sweetie?’ to become a digital media production collective, which is a fancy way to say there’s going to be multiple personalities across multiple series across multiple platforms all under the ‘What’s Big, Sweetie?’ name,” Denson said. 

The duo is already carving out this new path — the growing collective reportedly has 10 members now — and both Denson and Roberts hope “What’s Big, Sweetie?” will “share some resources, skills and an audience with other Black women so that we can all make authentic content,” according to Denson.

“At the heart of what we’re doing is showcasing Black women and how we feel authentically and how we walk in the world,” she remarked.

“What’s Big, Sweetie?” can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Anchor and several other podcast platforms.

Contact Nicole Johnson at nicole.djohnson ‘at’ comcast.net.

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Nicole Johnson is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.