Tusculum English Professor develops program for University that identifies acts of kindness

Two people are heading for the same building at roughly the same time, and the first one to arrive holds the door open so the other can pass through the entrance first.

Consider other instances. A person notices some trash in the grass and stops to collect it and put it in a waste container. Someone learns another person is experiencing homelessness and steps forward to help him or her find a new place to live. A person knows someone who does not have transportation to a doctor’s appointment and offers to drive him or her there.

Each of these cases represents an example where someone has demonstrated kindness toward a fellow human being or their surroundings. They are noteworthy because they showcase the best in a person, but many times these acts of benevolence go unnoticed.

Tusculum University sees the value of recognizing individuals within the Tusculum family who show goodwill toward others or their environment. Based on a recommendation from Heather Elouej, an associate professor of English and the writing program coordinator at Tusculum, the university has established a new initiative called Caught You Being Good.

“We regularly see acts of kindness at Tusculum’s three locations but have not always thought about the importance of calling attention to them,” Elouej said. “Many do not seek recognition for good acts, but as a community, this program is a great reminder of the giving spirit alive in so many people. Caught You Being Good sets a positive tone and might encourage others to adopt this mindset.”

Tusculum has established a simple process to honor people for their actions. The university has developed a form that can be completed on www.tusculum.edu in which the nominator identifies the person who has demonstrated kindness and explains what transpired. Nominators also have the option of printing that form and placing it in collection boxes in the Thomas J. Garland Library or in the Tusculum cafeteria. They can also submit using a special email address designated for this program.

Good acts can happen at Tusculum’s locations in Greeneville, Knoxville or Morristown or anywhere in the community.

Besides recognizing wonderful behavior, Caught You Being Good will lead to a student earning a $500 scholarship. Tusculum’s executive cabinet will award a $500 scholarship each academic year for the act deemed most worthy in the spring and fall semesters.

“This exceptional initiative Heather developed reinforces the kindness so prevalent at Tusculum and our commitment to civic engagement,” said Dr. James Hurley, the university’s president. “When people help others in need or demonstrate basic kindness, they benefit just as much as the recipient. This creates an atmosphere that brings out the best in everyone and attracts students and staff members who want to study and work in a caring environment.”

Elouej was inspired by a similar program she saw firsthand when she was a fifth-grade student at Capitol Hill Fifth Grade Center in Oklahoma City. In that program, administrators, teachers and students were on the lookout for students who showed good behavior. The adults would detail the good acts on slips of paper, and the reward for students was candy.

For the Tusculum version, Elouej has expanded the eligible recipients of nominations to cover students, faculty and staff.

Established Monday, Jan. 14, Caught You Being Good has already generated multiple nominations. For example, student Jessica Small was caught for ensuring that three students – a mother and her two daughters – had a ride to classes at Tusculum because they did not have a vehicle that was operating properly. Jessica was also credited with helping the mother, Mae Jones, take her 3-year-old son to an emergency department.

“This lady goes out of her way to help anyone in need,” Jones said. “I was recently in the hospital, and she checked on me daily and even came to my home to help care for me. God has truly blessed me this year, and Jessica is one huge blessing to the Tusculum family.”

Student Emily Brinton was commended for using her class research project to discuss the need for better campus policies and procedures to help prevent teen suicide in junior high and high schools in Oregon. Her work led to legislation being drafted and presented to that state in the fall.

Others have been nominated for items such as carrying a case of large water bottles for someone, listening to students’ cafeteria meal preferences, assisting a fellow employee who was facing an unexpected addition to his workload and helping a student run an errand.

“It was exciting and heartwarming to receive our first nomination within two hours of launching Caught You Being Good,” Elouej said. “My goal is to produce healthy competition of kindness and help people to be more aware of the way they treat others and display empathy for other people. I am looking forward to hearing about other acts of kindness and seeing this initiative continue to grow.”

For more information, please watch an interview of Elouej by Dr. Hurley at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6-fMpyl2gc