Last week, students in Health Sciences professor Jennifer Irwin’s Health Promotions class went on an unusual field trip – one they asked for, planned and executed on their own.
With a goal of spreading compassion across campus, the class – comprised of 350 second-year students in the School of Health Studies – spent Wednesday afternoon engaging in and encouraging random acts of kindness in the community.
One group of students handed out thank-you cards to bus drivers who stopped on campus. Another gave granola bars and water bottles to students heading to class. Some bought hot chocolates and handed them out to people waiting in the cold for a bus, while some handed out sticky notes with compliments to those who walked by. Students also talked to people about kindness, encouraging discussion about compassion.
And that’s just a small sampling of the ‘RAKs’ – the random acts of kindness – the class decided to spread across campus as part of a larger project called Kindtagious, a follow-up to last year’s project, the Butterfly Effect: A Legacy Through Kindness.
Each act was followed with a card, handed out by students, which read:
You have been RAK’ed! Keep this random act of kindness going. Do something kind for someone else and pass this card along.
“At first, you feel kind of awkward, because it’s not something you do. We were handing out compliment sticky notes, and once you start doing it, it feels comfortable and it’s like an adrenaline rush,” Emily Brunka said. “It makes you feel so good after. I’m sitting here smiling for no reason.
“People asked if they could pass it along to someone else, and you just know it’s going around and it’s going to make someone’s day. When you feel good, you want to do good things for yourself and other people.”
Another student almost cried after handing a thank-you note to a Hospitality Services staff member and receiving unexpectedly overwhelming gratitude in return.
“The best part is, you don’t know how far one act of kindness can go or the impact it can make,” Sarah Pol said.
Lucas Polidori and Alex Marshall, who handed out water bottles and granola bars, said students’ reactions of surprise and gratitude made their day – especially after speaking with one young woman who they caught leaving class in obvious distress.
“She was reluctant, at first, to take the snacks, but we convinced her that a cold drink and a snack would help her out. Before she walked away, she smiled and said, ‘It’s a terrible day, not a terrible life,’” Polidori said.
When asked how they thought their RAKs contributed to the promotion of health, students felt a connection to those with whom they interacted. They fostered a sense of community, compassion and made both the giver of kindness, and the receiver, feel better.
While students could easily have taken the chance to skip the RAK portion of the class last week, showing up for the second half once students reconvened, nearly all 350 showed up, Irwin said.
“You want to do good. You want to foster kindness. You more than want to do it, you are doing it. You’re putting your money where your mouth is. I see that you really care. I see your compassion for others is boundless,” she said to the class afterwards.
The class was quick to bounce back, as students clapped for Irwin, who fostered a space in which Kindtagious was a possibility.
“As she provided the opportunity for our class to perform random acts of kindness, she played a role in every act of kindness that our class performed that day. (This) resulted in over 300 random acts of kindness. She created some magic in our class, and that magic is something I hope no one, whether it be a person giving a kindness, or a person receiving a kindness, will ever forget,” said Joshua Walsh.
The kindness doesn’t stop at the classroom door. Students are encouraging the university community to keep Kindtagious alive.
RAK cards, created by Deb Coward from Student Support Services and Angie Mandich, associate vice provost for student experience (acting), are available to pick up and pass out (along with an act of kindness) at the Health Sciences Dean’s Office, HSB 200; Student Success Centre, UCC 210; and Student Development Centre, WSS 4100.
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GET IN THE SPIRIT. For stories, photos and more information about Kindtagious, visit thebutterflyeffectUWO on Facebook, @westernuRAK on Twitter and search #kindtagious on Instagram.