Free hugs, hot chocolate, compliments, bubbles — anyone walking across campus the first day back from spring break may encounter a small barrage of surprises during the inaugural Random Acts of Kindness Week (RAK) at MIT. With funding from the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, offices of Minority Education and Dean for Graduate Education, and the Baker Foundation, two sophomores, Bettina Arkhurst and Cory Johnson, have rallied a growing “kindness crew” around them to carry off a campus-wide week of simple, selfless acts from March 28 to April 1.
“We hope RAK Week will be a time for the members of the MIT community — undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and MIT associates — to connect through small acts of kindness,” says Arkhurst, who serves as student chair of MindHandHeart’s connectedness working group.
While organizers have planned a full schedule of RAK Week events, they have intentionally kept the week open to spontaneous low-key, stress-free add-ins. They have asked students, faculty, and staff to participate in RAK Week in any way they see fit. Arkhurst says, “This is the week to pull out the random goodies, giveaways, and thank-you notes. We encourage everyone to step out of their usual routines and reach out to others.”
During RAK Week, Student Support Services (S-Cubed) has an open house planned — with food, beverages, giveaways, and tail-wags on Tuesday, March 29; MIT Libraries and MIT Medical are planning random acts to complement the RAK Week schedule; and deans and counselors will circulate through the events in Lobby 10 on Wednesday, March 30.
Chancellor Barnhart, who is a co-sponsor of the MindHandHeart Initiative and reviewer of Innovation Fund proposals, congratulated RAK student organizers and encouraged the entire MIT community to take part in the week’s activities.
“RAK Week celebrates the strength, creativity, and compassion of the MIT community,” Barnhart says. “I am proud of the students behind this effort for focusing on coming together and giving back during what can be a particularly stressful period in the semester. And I am grateful to our staff in student support offices across campus for taking part.”
Arkhurst and Johnson dreamed up RAK Week together last spring, as they saw the need for something that would make students, faculty, and staff feel connected, not just to one another, but also to the wealth of support resources on campus. As Johnson describes it, “The idea began as a Nu Delta community service and grew from there. We mainly want to make everyone's day a little brighter during one of the toughest times of the academic year. We hope people will be able to form lasting connections during this week and remember to look out for one another.”
Among the other students creatively involved is Daniel Sanchez, who designed the logo and marketing for RAK Week. The name of the event Arkhurst says was strategic. “On the Thursday of RAK Week we’re planning a day when we encourage RAK hacks of kindness. Anyone who witnesses a random act of kindness can post it on social media with the hashtag #MITRAK.” Students who wish to volunteer can contact RAKfirstname.lastname@example.org.
The MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, which helped get RAK Week off the ground, offers grants of up to $10,000 to support new or in-process projects led by faculty, students, or staff that promote mental health, wellness, life skills, or community building. A third round of funding is currently available and applications will be accepted through March 31. The Undergraduate Association (UA) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC) are co-sponsoring this effort and will collectively review the proposals with MindHandHeart. Applications are accepted online via an interactive application.
Currently, 15 MindHandHeart Innovation Fund projects are in full swing — from RAK Week to Slow-Looking Art and MIT Puppy Lab. These grants are designed to tap MIT’s experimental side (mind and hand) and community spirit side (heart) in order to find new ways to enhance mental health and well-being.