Last month, MIT students, faculty, and staff celebrated the second annual Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) week from March 6–10.
After dealing with the loss of a fellow student, Bettina Arkhurst ‘18 and Cory Johnson ‘18 figured there had to be a more effective way to brighten students’ days and help others cope with stress, depression, and loss during troubling times. “We thought, what is a way that we can encourage more people to make these connections, to show people that they’re not invisible?” said Arkhurst.
They started with the idea that “We wanted to put more faces behind all those resources, so when people hear ‘S^3,’ or ‘mental health and counseling,’ they don’t just see a logo in their head or hear stories, but they know someone there.” From here, they came up with RAK Week—a week devoted to promoting encouragement, awareness, and above all, kindness, among students, faculty, and staff.
But they couldn’t do it alone. Fortunately, Arkhurst is a student member of Connectedness, a MindHandHeart working group dedicated to connecting MIT community members to build supportive relationships and reduce isolation throughout the year. Arkhurst and Johnson were granted funding from the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, which seeks to provide the community with new ways to support positive mental health and well-being. “I definitely could not have done it without MindHandHeart at all,” said Arkhurst. “I think it was sort of amazing to see this idea that I had, which was kind of a wacky one, form into something, and be something that we could experience for years to come.”
Although plenty of planning and preparation went into last year’s RAK Week, Arkhurst maintains that the week would not have been so successful if it weren’t for the snowballing independent efforts of students, faculty, and staff joining in on the fun. “A lot of the success of [the first year] I would attribute to people having a willingness to get involved and this idea that people are looking to help others as well.” Jessica Quaye ‘19, a freshman during the inaugural RAK Week, emphasized how important these seemingly small personal connections were in shaping her MIT experience and eventually leading her to join this year’s RAK Week committee. “If someone is able to take just ten or fifteen minutes out of their day to reach out to you, to show you some love, to let you know that they care about you as a human being, if there’s something wrong with you, they want to help you,” she said. “That’s very heartwarming.”
This year’s RAK Week consisted of similar events to last year, beginning on Monday with simple, kind actions like pinning clothespins bearing encouraging phrases to students backpacks and shooting bubble guns through corridors. Tuesday sought to raise awareness about on-campus peer-to-peer resources like Active Minds and Peer Ears, which Wednesday was focused on Institute resources. The week culminated in a final open mic night on Friday, at which community members were encouraged to share and listen to stories of personal struggle and triumph. “I loved the open mic because it was sort of like a window to other people’s lives,” Quaye reflected. “You just see people randomly pass by you, you just walk past people, you never know what their stories are, you never know what their lives are like. But then, here’s the case where everyone tells you what they’ve been through, what they’re going through, where they’re going, what they’ve planned, what ended up happening, how they dealt with it. And you get a more human feel of everyone who was present at the event.”
Following this year’s RAK Week, MindHandHeart will look toward making the event sustainable so that students in years to come may continue to benefit from such a positive and important experience.
“I love MIT, and I’m happy that I made the decision to come here,” said Quaye. “But more importantly, I’m happy that MIT places more focus, more emphasis, more energy, and more resources on ensuring that you are okay, rather than making you succeed. Because when you are okay, you will definitely succeed.”
Written by Isabella Dionne. Video by Stephanie Tran.
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Recent survey data show that 2-8 percent of MIT graduate students and as many as 13 percent of MIT undergraduates do not have enough to eat. And the problem is not unique to MIT: other similar schools report that about 20 percent of their students struggle with food insecurity.
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