As temperatures drop, the last leaves fall from the trees, and final exams loom, MIT students were surprised to find a nature-themed installation on the first floor of the Student Center on Monday. A temporary lawn was placed under the couches with support from Campus Activities Complex and MindHandHeart to create a sense of calm.
The indoor lawn was spearheaded by Yifan Lu, a first-year MIT Sloan School of Management student who was inspired by a similar installation at her alma mater Cornell University. “Seeing the grass at Cornell really struck me,” said Lu. “It was such a random and fun idea. When I got to MIT, it felt similar to Cornell in that you have a lot of stressed students and it gets really cold, so I thought it would be great to bring it to MIT.”
On the second day of the installation, MindHandHeart sponsored a study break with free cupcakes and hot chocolate that was attended by over 200 people. In addition to the desserts, MindHandHeart distributed pamphlets describing support resources on campus and ways to help peers in distress.
Lu described the study break saying: “I’m thrilled that people came and enjoyed the lawn. They didn’t just grab a cupcake and leave. People were reflecting on why this is happening and sitting down to relax. Having spent a few hours on the lawn over the past couple days, I’ve watched the surprise on students’ faces and their smiles have made me feel really good.”
Lu is using a suggestion box to collect anonymous feedback on the installation. One student wrote: “I'm from Colorado, and one of the first things I've noticed since being here is the lack of open grass and parks. Being at this indoor lawn brought back an element of home I didn't realize I needed.” Another student commented: “I cannot put into words how much I loved the indoor lawn and the happiness that it brought me. I love nature, and the sad and gloomy weather, trees, and early sunsets have a huge impact on my mood. Please make this a frequent thing!”
Speaking on the impact of the lawn, Lu said: “There are numerous studies that demonstrate how elements of nature, even if they’re indoors and very subtle, can increase attention capacity, lower stress and anxiety levels, and encourage a positive mood. It’s okay if students don’t consciously recognize that — it just makes me happy to see them enjoying the grass and relaxing a little bit.”