VCU students are speaking up this month about their acts of kindness through the Wellness Resource Center’s new campaign encouraging bystanders to speak up instead of walk away.
The Well’s #VeryCaringU campaign encourages students to share times when they’ve stepped up to help someone in need, instead of walking away. The bystander effect describes cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present.
According to health educator Amanda McGann, the normal reaction of people seeing someone being victimized is to do nothing, and it is often difficult to overcome the bystander effect.
“People often ask themselves, ‘Is it my place to step up? Someone else will if I don’t, right?” McGann said. “The campaign encourages students to step up, both in times when there is an unsafe or unhealthy situation, and also when there is an opportunity to make someone’s day through a small kindness.”
VCU students can participate in the campaign by sharing stories of acts of kindness through social media with the hashtag #VeryCaringU, or by going to in person to the Well and sharing their story. As a reward, students can go to the Wellness Resource center during the day and pick up a free t-shirt and wristbands while supplies last.
Managing all of the stories is the Well’s social media team, including sophomore marketing major Zhina Kamali. Collectively, Kamali and her team have received over 500 stories from students so far.
“All the different stories shine a light on people’s perspectives and how even the smallest acts of kindness make a difference,” Kamali said.
The name of the campaign was created by the director of the Well, Linda Hancock, who said she was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from students.
“The stories are great,” Hancock said. “There was one where a group of VCU students were at a concert. They ran into a girl who was not a student but whose friends had left her. The girl was very drunk and impaired but she knew her name and her address. All of the VCU students chipped in $2 and got her a cab ride home. It shows how VCU students really do care and help out in many, many small and big ways.”
Hancock believes overcoming the bystander effect is “an important part of any college setting,” but especially here at VCU.
“VCU is a big place, the ‘urban trance’ can occur where people get busy and fail to notice when someone needs help,” she said. “This new campaign wants people to pay forward small kindnesses and practice noticing and helping with little things, so that when more challenging events occur they don’t freeze.”