A Campaign to Encourage Kindness on Campus

April 2, 2018

[courtesy of emu]
[courtesy of emu]

A recent study by the Anti-Defamation League confirmed what most of us working in academia already know: White supremacist groups are infiltrating universities in alarming numbers.

According to the study, since Sept. 16, 2016, some 346 incidents have been reported of hate groups leaving flyers, stickers, banners and posters on college campuses to spread their messages and recruit members. “White supremacists are targeting college campuses like never before,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said when announcing the study on Feb. 1.

During what most universities consider fall semester, September–December 2017, 147 incidents were reported, a 258 percent increase in campus hatred. In total, more than 200 colleges and universities in 44 states and Washington, D.C. have been targeted — from the Ivy League to two-year schools.

Sensors of social change

How can educators and communications professionals restore and encourage goodness on our campuses, in our workplaces and throughout our world?

After teaching public relations for the past 25 years, I’ve come to believe that effective educators and practitioners must abide by common tenets, including honesty, a commitment to doing good, the foresight to work proactively and the ability to communicate well. 

In September 2017, after numerous incidents of hate occurred on my university campus, I thought about two figures who have inspired me. One is Harold Burson, APR, Fellow PRSA, one of our most influential PR leaders, who long ago said that being sensors of social change is a primary role of PR practitioners.

The other figure was Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and political philosopher from the 1700s, who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Burson and Burke encouraged me to make my campus a better place, and I found a way for my students to lead the charge.

My fall 2017 schedule at Eastern Michigan University included a social media course that I built from the ground up, with help from texts written by my esteemed colleagues Karen Freberg and Carolyn Mae Kim, APR.

I added an assignment that required students to proactively combat hate by committing 15 random acts of kindness on campus throughout the semester, and then to tweet about their gestures using the hashtags #CampusKindness; #EMUSocialites, our class hashtag; and #TRUEMU, our university hashtag.

I was also teaching a PR-writing course, so I built the acts of kindness into that syllabus as well, as the assignment is versatile and important enough to be part of any public relations course.

It’s a simple assignment, but the results have been phenomenal. #CampusKindness has helped students pay closer attention to others sharing their university community and to demonstrate their creativity while doing good. Among hundreds of their random acts of kindness, they have volunteered to serve as peer editors, added coins to strangers’ expired parking meters, purchased coffee for those in line behind them, held doors open, cleaned snow off others’ cars, and much more.

The assignment has even led us to have richer and more honest class discussions about race relations and how PR can help sway public opinion on the issue.

Media interest

An added benefit of the students’ good works is that it yielded a lesson in media relations and how to pitch newsworthy stories. Our efforts have captured the attention of radio and television broadcasts, including TV station FOX 2 Detroit, public radio station WEMU, the podcast “Small Talk With Mark S. Lee,” and cable-TV program “EMU Today,” all of which have produced and aired stories featuring our initiative.

Led by PR instructor Cande Tschetter, Ph.D., APR, Central Michigan University recently joined the Campus Kindness movement and is using the hashtag #CMUKindness. Together, we are telling the world that our campuses are places where everyone should feel welcome, safe and valued.

Tangible benefits of kindness

But our work is not done — and needn’t be limited to institutions of higher learning. In public relations and the world at large, kindheartedness, benevolence and humanity should be at the heart of everything we do.

Indeed, random acts of kindness in the workplace can be just as effective as those on college campuses. A simple act of kindness can start conversations between employees with beliefs on opposite ends of our political spectrum. From such conversations comes understanding, which leads to positive connections and healthier work relationships. We may not all agree with one another, but after hearing and considering alternative points of view we can respectfully agree to disagree.

Research shows that “doing good” has other benefits for both the giver and the receiver. Studies have found that those who volunteer and commit acts of kindness reap health benefits that may help them live longer, happier and more productive lives.

Consider the following:

  • In a study on kindness, Christine Carter, a UC Berkeley researcher with the Greater Good Science Center, found that about half the participants reported feeling stronger and more energetic after helping others. Many also reported being calmer and less depressed with increased self-worth. In the workplace, feeling stronger and more energetic, as well as having confidence, can often lead to greater productivity.
  • According to research from Emory University, being kind to another person increases pleasure sensations in the brain of the giver, a phenomenon often called the “helper’s high.”
  • A University of British Columbia study reported that after one month of performing at least six acts of kindness each week, a group of highly anxious individuals experienced more frequent positive moods and less social avoidance.

Join us in our effort to make campuses and workplaces kinder. Requiring minimal effort yet yielding amazing results, random acts of kindness have the power to ease serious social ills. PR students and professionals can lead the way in this growing movement. 

Lolita Cummings Carson, APR

Lolita Cummings Carson, APR, is a PR professor at Eastern Michigan University. Contact her at lcummin2@emich.edu and on Twitter @LolitaCCarson.

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