A nice idea; UW-L students respond to negative social media game

Photo of students working.

A small group of UW-La Crosse students is working to turn a potentially life-threatening social media craze into one that is life-enhancing.

The students are challenging classmates — as well as students at other universities — to perform random acts of kindness.

They’re responding to the latest international social media craze among college students to challenge friends to risky competitions involving excessive drinking. Already, up to five deaths in Europe have been attributed to the game called Neknomination, in which a person makes a video challenge to an acquaintance. The challenge usually involves drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a unique setting and videotaping it before posting it on Twitter, Facebook or some other form of social media.

After hearing about a UW-L student taking part in a Neknomination challenge in the Recreational Eagle Center, student building managers decided to fight back.

Using the social media moniker of #NICEnominations, they headed out to do a random act of kindness. The REC student building managers chipped ice from the sidewalk in front of Common Ground Ministry.

They created a video of them working and challenged Intramural Sports supervisors in the REC to do their own kind act. Those supervisors took the challenge and made stress balls that they handed out to students during mid-term exams.

The intramurals supervisors challenged customer service representatives from the REC and the intramurals staff at UW-Whitewater. The supervisors eventually handed out cookies, brownies and coffee to people waiting to get into a warming center on West Avenue. The UW-Whitewater staff handed out water to fellow students participating in intramurals.

The customer service representatives challenged two more campus groups, while the UW-Whitewater intramurals staff challenged their student cheering team and intramurals staff at UW-Madison. That rapid spread of kind acts is exactly what students from the inaugural group had hoped.

“Students like to one-up each other, so we decided to make a challenge that would be positive,” explains Zach Scola, a REC student building manager who was part of the first #NICEnomination challenge. “We figured random acts of kindness would easily catch on and spread.”

Scola says earlier this year, the staff implemented “MAD Mondays” — Make-A-Difference Mondays. Each Monday REC staff have been taking part in a random act of kindness while working in the REC. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from making a difference in someone’s life,” notes the senior from Eau Claire who is majoring in sport management. “Doing a little can mean a lot for many.”

Cara Knipfer, another REC student building manager who was part of the first challenge, says despite it being harder to start something positive, #NICEnomination is gaining steam.

“We’re making it a competition of doing something good for your community and working to make that spread farther,” explains the sophomore from Oregon, Wis., who is majoring in exercise science and sport fitness. “It’s the little thing that can make someone’s day. Why not take this opportunity to do just that.”

Nathan Barnhart, assistant director of Intramural Sports, says he expects the #NICEnomination to reach farther than UW-Whitewater in southeastern Wisconsin. “Many of our students took this idea with them as they traveled throughout the country last week for spring break,” he says. “We look forward to seeing additional nominations posted in the upcoming weeks.”Here’s a look at the first three #NICEnominations at UW-La Crosse:

Update on the challenges: