George Mason University: Mason Kindness Ambassadors know small gestures can have a big impact

Mason’s first group of Kindness Ambassadors gathered Monday, Nov. 8, to be recognized for their commitment to spreading compassion and hope.

They were honored at a reception where they heard from President Gregory Washington, Mason Chooses Kindness Co-Chairs Nance Lucas and Lewis Forrest, Vice President of University Life Rose Pascarell, and Kindness Ambassadors Chair Vanessa Thompson about the critical importance of spreading kindness.

“Mason Chooses Kindness is really kind of a Mason thing to do,” Mason President Gregory Washington said. “Of course we would be involved in this because it’s fundamentally who we are. It embodies holistically our seven core values and is a clear extension of the things that many of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni do every day.”

The ambassadors—45 students, 73 faculty and staff, and 21 alumni—were nominated by people at Mason for their embodiment of kindness and their positive impact on the campus community. Their work is part of the Mason Chooses Kindness (MCK) initiative.

Some of the Kindness Ambassadors reflected on why kindness is essential and shared their plans for spreading kindness at Mason and beyond this academic year.

“In our world today, especially in our community, there is so much anger, hostility, and division that drives us apart and turns us against each other,” said public administration major Ransom Fox, a student Kindness Ambassador. “All it takes is one act of reaching out instead of attacking, one nice gesture instead of vileness, one light of kindness to melt away the darkness that divides us.”

Fox founded the Patriot Protection Association, a Mason student organization that collaborates with area community organizations on well-being projects. “We just finished a fundraiser for the Bethany House NOVA, which is the largest domestic abuse shelter in Northern Virginia, partnering with them and PRSSA to raise over $500,” he said, adding that the group is looking for its next project.

“Practicing kindness is so important to me because of how unkind the world can be,” said computer science major Nasrin Ali, a student Kindness Ambassador. “If I can do something to change even a little bit of the negativity, I am happy to do it.” She plans to “befriend more people, give out genuine compliments, and help people who may need it. I hope people will be encouraged to join in when they see what I am doing.”

The stress of the pandemic has highlighted the importance of kindness, said ambassador Laura Todd, a digital learning instructional designer at the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning. “Practicing kindness has always been important to show empathy and build connection with others. Being kind lets people know that we are all in this together.”

Todd said she wants to find new ways to help students who may be struggling, whether that’s due to food insecurity or because they are far from home. “Our diversity is our strength, and kindness is the scaffold that supports our diverse community.”

She would like to see if there’s a way to share fresh greens from Mason’s greenhouses through vouchers from the Patriot Pantry, or find a way for students to share gently used textbooks.

Practicing kindness is a vital part of education, said ambassador Shira Kulok, director of Mason’s Child Development Center. “It represents the foundation to positive human interaction. We are a vast community, all interconnected, benefitting from the kindness of others. It is my belief that kindness must be modeled to young children by the adults in their life to learn its importance and how it is shown to others.”

Practicing kindness “requires courage and strength, as it represents one’s time, affection, and compassionate acts of generosity,” said ambassador Mariana Estrada, an assistant teacher at Mason’s Child Development Center. “Showing kindness helps us connect with other people and build meaningful relationships. Additionally, I strongly believe that being kind to yourself is essential as it is a form of self-care to provide patience, acceptance, and caring toward oneself.”

It’s enjoyable to be kind, added ambassador Catherine Olien, associate director, Center for Humanities Research. “It makes life a little more fun, and it costs nothing! Showing kindness can give anyone you meet a wholesome, positive feeling, and it tends to be contagious; it’s often reflected right back at you!”

Olien said that her goal is for people be more inspired and energized after talking with her. “If I can tell someone is feeling unhappy or anxious, I invite them to tell me what’s going on. I hope others can do the same. We can’t always ‘fix’ a situation, but a dose of kindness is often enough to improve things.”

Spreading kindness is a vital way to spread love and peace to others, said ambassador Janae Johnson, assistant director of University Information. “It’s important to be kind toward others because we don’t know what situational experiences may be impacting their life. If I can make just one person’s day a little brighter with a smile, hug, or kind word, then I’m doing my part to spread peace and love.”

Even small acts of kindness can impact others in significantly positive ways, Johnson said, and she hopes that by being a role model of positivity, she will encourage others to spread kindness too. “I encourage everyone to remember that small acts of kindness can ripple into waves of positivity and to pay it forward!”

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