The 35 students in professor Laura Payne’s communication in recreation, sport and tourism course were faced with a novel project. For their first assignment in the fall 2016 semester, students were asked to perform a random act of kindness for someone and post about it on social media using the hashtag #RAKLexiTurner.
The hashtag is part of an ongoing memorial campaign to honor Lexi Turner, a 17-year-old youth who was struck and killed by a train Sept. 2, 2015. Turner was walking on the railroad tracks near her family’s Lemont, Illinois, home listening to music through earbuds when the accident occurred.
The #RAKLexiTurner campaign was created by a group of friends to help Amy Turner cope with the loss of her daughter. September also marks the annual observance of National Railway Safety Week in the U.S.
Payne decided to incorporate the kindness campaign into the curriculum for the RST 199 course by having students create a public relations campaign about railway safety and the dangers of distracted walking.
Payne had witnessed firsthand the tragic consequences of distracted walking in 2004, when she was an eyewitness to a fatal accident involving a U. of I. student and a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus at a campus intersection.
“I can’t tell you how often I see students on campus walking alone at night using earbuds or riding bicycles and using their cellphones,” said Payne, who is a friend of the Turner family. “We can’t emphasize enough the importance of stopping, looking and listening, and being aware of one’s surroundings.”
Payne asked the students in her class to create a slogan about train safety and disseminate it via an electronic medium. The students were asked to bring to class a hard copy of their online post and a description of the charitable act they had performed. Participants discussed how they came up with their messages and why they chose a particular medium, such as Facebook or Instagram, to broadcast it.
“This project helped the students apply the course concepts in a timely real-world situation and supported a fantastic and relevant cause – increasing awareness of your surroundings to decrease the risk of injury to yourself or others through distracted walking, bicycling and driving,” Payne said. “It’s a message salient to everyone in our campus community. The value-added benefit was that the students also experienced the joy of doing a random act of kindness along the way.”
Students reported that they had performed kindnesses such as paying for strangers’ food or coffee at restaurants or coffee shops; befriending a campus newcomer and giving the student a free haircut; and helping an elderly woman transport her groceries from a Chicago city bus to her home.
The assignment had personal significance for Meghan Hannigan, a junior from Oak Park, Illinois, who also lost someone in a railway accident. Hannigan said a friend’s mother was killed in a collision with a train during Hannigan’s freshman year at the U. of I.
Hannigan’s safety slogan was: “If we’re not careful, trains will leave our families wrecked.”
Hannigan’s act of kindness was sharing Turner’s story and discussing railway safety with a group of women who were considering joining her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, during formal recruitment last fall.
“I like assignments that are that personal,” said Hannigan, who is majoring in both psychology and RST. “It was a really cool assignment and an effective way to help the #RAKLexiTurner movement.”