An open mic night in the Media Lab Friday evening marked the finale of RAK Week, a week-long series of events on campus aimed to help people “connect through small acts of kindness.”
“MIT community members build things every day. We can build a better, happier community,” Cory M. Johnson ’18, one of the organizers of Random Acts of Kindness Week, said.
Activities throughout the week included handing out flowers to people as they walked down the Infinite and pinning clothespins with encouraging phrases to people’s bags and backpacks; the recipients were encouraged to pass them along to others.
“We handed out about 1,000 flowers, and there were 500 goody bags,” Johnson said. “There were 30 to 40 people who did things with their hands or time.”
Though Johnson and co-organizer Bettina K. Arkhurst ’18 had planned events for each day of the week, other student groups, departments, and individuals got involved and offered their own events and activities.
“MIT Libraries had stationary, postage, and paper, so you could write a letter to someone, and they would send it for you anywhere in the world,” Johnson said.
Academic departments got involved as well — organizers from Course 10 handed out clementines and apples, Course 17 gave out ice cream and frozen fruit bars, and administrators in Course 20 gave each student $5 in TechCash to “spend on something for someone else,” Arkhurst said.
“We didn’t necessarily have a hand in everything that happened during the week, because that would have been a lot,” Arkhurst said.
Instead, the group met with departments and student groups to “plant the seed,” and then encouraged people to come up with their own activities in the spirit of RAK Week. “It was really cool how it enabled other people to do things,” Arkhurst said.
Events during the week also touched on issues of mental health. At the open mic night, students shared stories of struggling with and overcoming depression at MIT. Members of S^3 were in the audience to provide support to students during scheduled breaks in the evening, with rooms reserved for one-on-one breakout sessions. Ed Bertschinger, MIT’s Institute Community and Equity Officer, was also in attendance.
“Mental health was our secondary goal, or a byproduct of RAK Week,” Arkhurst said. “It was mostly about getting people connected to other people.”
Arkhurst and Johnson organized the week with funding from the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, the offices of Minority Education and Dean for Graduate Education, and the Baker Foundation, amounting to $5,600, as well as support from departments.
Not being an ASA recognized student group meant that Arkhurst and Johnson didn’t have easy access to a number of resources needed to run large-scale events: “we couldn’t just request rooms, or have an account to get reimbursed with, and we couldn’t just book booths in Lobby 10,” Johnson said.
Arkhurst and Johnson both expressed that MIT can sometimes feel siloed into different groups, labs, and departments, and were excited by the broad involvement of groups on campus.
“It seems like the administration and the students and grad students don’t all talk to each other and there’s all these different organizations and groups and there’s too many of them,” Johnson said, “and we think that you can’t get them on the same page, but we can. It’s possible.”
“We had no expectation that departments, and random labs, and Sloan, and the Media Lab, and MIT Medical, and the ODGE, and the list goes on, could participate all on the same thing,” he said. “But they can do the same thing if they’re on the same page.”
“These are things that they could actually do outside of RAK Week. So it shows us what people are capable of,” Arkhurst said.