Every Thursday during lunch at Usdan, Bill Kaplan and Lilah Sloane stand at the foot of the Usdan staircase holding a homemade sign offering “Free Hugs” to anyone who wishes to have one. Their presence has become familiar and beloved to many Wesleyan students. At a time when acrimonious cat-fighting and name-calling has become an everyday feature of a day at Wes, random acts of kindness such as Free Hugs are a reminder that it is just as easy to be good to one another as it is to be nasty.
Sloane and Kaplan got the original idea for a Wesleyan chapter of the Free Hugs campaign last year. They made their sign and began to offer hugs in Usdan at the beginning of last semester. The two agree that students often get a “boost” in their day from the hugging experience. “We get a steady stream of people,” Sloane said. “Weekly, people thank me for being here, and say (Free Hugs Day) is their favorite time of the week.” The Free Hugs campaign at Wes is strong, and though not everyone in the University partakes in a free hug, the fact that two people are giving their time to make people just a little bit happier is a commendable feat.
The Free Hugs movement is more than just a Wesleyan phenomenon. At the movement’s official website, freehugscampaign.org, one can see that from London to Tokyo people all over the world have given themselves to randomly brightening strangers’ days. Founded by an Englishman named Juan Mann, the first free hug was given to a woman who had lost her daughter a year ago to the day. “To see someone who was once frowning smile, even for a moment, is worth it every time,” Mann wrote on the website. His movement has indeed made people happier around the world, at least for a little bit of their day.
As anyone who reads The Argus in print knows, the tone of Wesleyan’s political discourse and gossip can sometimes turn downright nasty. You can find Jon Booth or Mytheos Holt’s opinions repugnant or downright insidious, but that does not mean that they are any less of human beings for having those opinions. Everyone at Wesleyan has a cause of some sort, which is a wonderful thing. But too often, we see the cause and miss the person behind it. It’s saddening to see the campus that came so alive over the election of a president who promised change, bipartisanship and understanding return to squabbling over superficial differences.
“Then the ACB came along and said, “We’ll take Facebook’s idea, but erase the faces,” and suddenly people realized that they had total license to talk shit about each other—no faces, no profiles, also meant no responsibility for one’s words or actions,” reads the February 17th Argus unsigned editorial. I know several people whose reputations have been torn down by malicious ACB commenting, and I’m sure you do too. A forum originally meant as a means of “confessing” what one was too afraid to say has become a forum for mean-spirited character assassinations––I’m surprised at how a school so liberal could attach itself to an anonymous, lynch-mob mentality.
One student in The Argus editorial was quoted as saying, “It’s easy to be really mean.” Well, people, it’s also easy to be really kind. You don’t need to change your personality significantly. You don’t need to give out free hugs to any stranger who wants one, noble as that may be. We just need to realize that behind every SDSer and Young Republican and ACB meme is a real person. Once we do that, I’m sure that the acrimony that has overtaken our campus will settle down and we can continue about our business– namely, awesomeness.