“We literally just want to make people happy,” Ari Schuman, CC ’15 and co-president of the Student Wellness Project, said.
That is the goal of SWP and CU Active Minds' third annual Random Acts of Kindness Week, which runs until Friday. The week comes right on the heels of last week’s Mental Health awareness week, which featured meditation and peer-health training sessions.
“It’s not about policy problems or about structural problems. It’s about the way we treat each other on this campus,” said Andrea Shang, BC ’14and SWP co-president. “It’s about the ways our behavior affects one another.”
“We’re trying to start chains of kindness that reverberate through people’s lives—maybe you open a door for someone and then that person smiles at a stranger, and the stranger is having a shitty day but it gets a little better because of it,” Shang said.
Monday’s theme was compliments, and group members wrote compliments on the mirrors of library bathrooms and encouraged students to compliment their friends.
“This week is really an exercise in self-care,” said Active Minds president Rakhi Agrawal, BC ’14 and a Spectator staff writer.
“A lot of the initial conversations SWP and Active Minds were having were very heavy, in terms of policy changes, but we realized people are actually more important than policy—because after all, policy is there to take care of people,” Agrawal said.
“I remember during my first RAK week we had a table where we were giving out snacks and beverages... and people were being really wary,” said Shang. “They kept edging around the table, like ‘What is this? Do we have to sign up for anything?’ It was nothing they had ever encountered on campus before.”
“We want to normalize these ideas and acts,” Shang said. “We want people to remember within the chaos and craziness of life at Columbia to take time to take care of themselves and their friends.”
Tuesday’s theme will be inspiration, and students will be handing out free candy in Butler. On Wednesday, self-care day, students are encouraged to wear pajamas to class, while on Thursday, students will be giving out free hugs on College Walk. To cap off the week on Friday, students will be able to send RAK week cards to their friends’ Lerner mailboxes.
“We’re trying to remind everyone about the things going on underneath the surface of what people reveal to other people in casual conversation,” SWP member Jess Swanson, CC ’17, said. “It’s about being conscious there are plenty of things you don’t know about your peers and maybe yourself.”
To do just that, SWP and Active Minds have invited photographer Steve Rosenfield back to campus to continue his “What I Be” project. The project, which Rosenfield brought to campus in 2010 and again last year for Mental Health Awareness Week, showcases its subjects’ insecurities by literally writing them all over their faces.
“The great thing about ‘What I Be’ is that it shows the vulnerability of people you think are really well put-together, who look like they have their shit together, admit that they’re not,” Schuman said. “I feel like a lot of people think that about me in terms of med school applications, but that’s not at all how I feel about myself.”
The project has proved immensely popular with students, over 120 of whom have signed up. Interest has been so high that SWP and Active Minds were forced to wait-list some hopeful participants.
SWP and Active Minds are also collaborating with Zach Hodges, CC ’15, to hold a storytelling event on Thursday night, where everyone will be encouraged to share some details about their life at Columbia while enjoying free soup and grilled cheese.
“The goal is to just create a space where people are able to drop their facades for a few minutes and share something about themselves that they wouldn’t normally have the venue to share,” said Hodges, who has been running similar events throughout the semester through the University Chaplain’s office.
“In the end, this week is about proving that you don’t have to be a therapist to have these conversations, you just need to care enough to ask someone how they’re feeling,” Agrawal said.
Correction: an earlier version of this story had an incorrect year for Andrea Shang. She is BC '14. Spectator regrets the error.