Why I Serve is going virtual. As members of our campus community have shifted to virtual learning and engagement, our Q&A series will highlight the projects and contributions of the Princeton community, including faculty, students, and staff, that are engaging with service in virtual ways. We recently spoke with Daniel Te, a junior concentrating in philosophy with a certificate in urban studies, from Woodbridge, Virginia. Daniel is founder of Acts of Kindness, a Pace Center student organization.
Please describe the mission of Acts of Kindness. Why did you form as a student group? What is your specific role with the group?
"Acts of Kindness (AOK) aims to create a more compassionate environment on campus. To be kind is more than just being agreeable or nice; it’s an active process that shows people that you deeply care about them. This active care is what Princeton needs more of.
I’ve definitely struggled with being actively kind myself. I’m naturally reserved, so when spring semester of freshman year hit, I hadn’t joined many student groups or had many friends. Princeton can be isolating for a person like me; people often stick to peers already in their circles. Something I always appreciated though was the rare moments when a random friend would play a game with me, hang out, or just send a nice message.
I asked myself, why can’t we take more initiative to kindly reach out to people? Do we need to limit ourselves to our social circles? I went on a mission to find out. I took a pair of cheerleading pom-poms and blasted out emails to the residential college listservs, offering to become anyone’s personal cheerleader during finals period. I cheered more than 100 people that week. Ultimately, nothing holds us back besides our willingness to be kind.
Two years later, I founded AOK at the beginning of my junior year, continuing to search for ways that we can be kinder in our personal relationships and break boundaries to form new relationships. It’s a learning process for me as well as the AOK members, but I do believe that we can all take steps towards making our world a more supportive and compassionate place."
What has it been like for you to move back home? How is Acts of Kindness regrouping to work together virtually?
"For me, it has been a rather smooth transition home; I only live a couple hours away by car. I think a lot more about my friends who have struggled to make arrangements on short notice.
In terms of working virtually, I think that it is a challenge, in that the mission of the group focuses on human interaction. Being with people physically is a special experience for sure; it breaks my heart that I won’t get to see many of my senior friends in-person again before they graduate. However, just because it’s not the same, doesn’t mean that we can’t make the most of it. I’m a huge believer in the fact that when times are tough, we can always find a way. That’s just being human.
These shifts show that there’s still a lot that we have to do as a society. It’s easy to forget that living in our picturesque Orange Bubble. Civic engagement shouldn’t just be reactionary for when issues directly affect us. Imagine if we put this level of effort into tackling climate change, reforming the prison system, or education equity. In our lives, we have the potential to do a lot of good, and I hope that people see that more clearly moving forward."
Tell us about the #KeepItKind Challenge. What is this effort all about? What do you hope it will accomplish? How can people take part?
"The #KeepItKind Challenge is all about making sure that people feel that touch of human interaction while we’re all apart. Every other week, AOK will provide an opportunity for you to be kind or interact with other people, and we’re planning to go all the way to the end of the semester. It’s easy to panic or get anxious with the current state of the world these days, but hopefully, this consistent source of connection will help to support people through these times.
This week, we’re hosting a campus-wide letter exchange with Letters to Strangers, another Pace Center student group. Sign up through the event posted on the Wintersession Virtual Community website, and the deadline to submit/receive letters is Friday, March 27. If you’re part of any groups that are partaking in similar kind missions or have any ideas that would be compatible for #KeepItKind, reach out or email me! The more people and initiatives we have on board, the more we can be united in supporting each other."
Why do you think it's important to share kindness and gratitude at this particular time?
"People are going through some really difficult situations, and it can be really psychologically taxing. The news cycle isn’t helping either. Of course, while we can support each other emotionally with kindness, it isn’t going to solve all of our problems by itself. However, I think it is important to note that we can’t tackle our problems to the best unless we are emotionally at our best. Who knows how long we will be in this situation, so giving people that boost might make a difference."
What's one thing you'd want to share with your fellow students as folks think about how to engage and respond in their home communities?
"The first step you can do is to reach out to your friends or neighbors that might be struggling (whether emotionally, economically, or other ways). They might not even be your close friends, but rarely do people ever dislike having someone check in on them (as long as you’re not pushy).
It’s easy to feel powerless while quarantined, but try looking around the Internet. I found this Facebook group (“CovEd”) that’s trying to connect college kids with low-income K-12 students. I hope that more Princeton students volunteer to help out with this initiative.
If I were to sum things up in two words, be active. Don’t ever feel that you can’t do anything because there is always an opportunity to grasp somewhere."