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Put on a happy face

By Sheila Bapat
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 20, 2000
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Apparently, the UA isn't a very friendly place.

If it were, the Department of Residence Life would not have arranged an all-out campaign to get the UA smiling. Today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Operation Friendly Campus will be in full force on the Mall.

Buckle down UA, it's time to get friendly.

Operation Friendly Campus is, literally, a campaign to encourage people to say "hello" and "good morning" to one another.

Led by Matt Helm, the coordinator of multicultural education and advocacy for Residence Life, OFC will be on the Mall saying hello and handing out yellow happy-face buttons. The tightly-budgeted program was born after Helm and Alex Wright, director of the UA's African American student affairs, noticed that the UA campus suffers from chronic crankiness.

"We noticed that everyone put their heads down as they walk across campus, and no one says hello," Helm said. "But we think that by noticing people, just by saying hi, you can improve their whole day."

Helm discussed his and Wright's thoughts about campus friendliness at a workshop he held for new resident assistants. Matt Case, an RA at Manzanita-Mohave, listened intently to Helm's speech and decided to do something about it. He told his idea to Helm, and Operation Friendly Campus was born.

"We're just trying to get everyone at the UA to say 'hi' to each other," said Case, a history sophomore. "That's our goal, to have a better community."

The idea is so simple, yet so silly at the same time. That roughly 15 volunteers will be working a booth on the Mall for the sole purpose of saying hello and handing out smiley-face buttons is a teensy bit bizarre.

But it's sweet nonetheless. And some campus groups ought to adopt the philosophy.

SAS, for example, clearly needs a new strategy. The adamant anti-sweatshop group has been sitting in, walking out, picketing and camping out just to convince UA President Peter Likins' office to join the Worker Rights Consortium.

They ought to try smiling, saying hello and giving Likins a bright yellow happy-face pin. Then, he will surely join the WRC.

Some campus groups are already trying out OFC's philosophy, but the true intentions of their friendliness seem a bit sketchy.

A campus fraternity showed a little bit of friendliness to UAPD Sgt. Smith last week. Phi Gamma Delta invited UAPD police to dinner because the campus cops recently relocated close to the frat.

Now that they're neighbors, FIJI felt the need to be hospitable to the cops that could very well pass out MIPs at their next party.

"FIJI sent out a form letter inviting us over," Smith said. "So, I thought well, I'm going to go over and say hi."

Which is precisely what OFC is trying to accomplish! Sgt. Smith knows what's up.

Smith, who often sees the ugly side of campus life as a police officer, believes such an effort is valuable.

"In terms of friendliness on campus, there is always room for improvement," Smith said. "Honestly, [OFC] is a great idea. There is a lot of unique, diverse groups on campus, so anything to help the overall well-being of the campus is a good thing."

OFC is unique because it is such a genuine effort toward something so simple. Plenty of campus groups have intense political agendas or shady initiation processes.

But Operation Friendly Campus is not exclusive. Its goal is to simply make the UA a happier place to be.

Helm, a doctoral student, has worked with Residence Life for two years. He believes in OFC because he firmly lives by the Residence Life mission statement: "We serve, we teach, we care."

If all goes well today, Operation Friendly Campus will be back early next semester to spread some more sunshine. Helm hopes to expand the program into residence halls, creating Operation Friendly Hall.

"We could even try Operation Friendly Wildcat," Helm said.

Let me check with my editor.

As silly as the whole thing sounds, it is well worth it to check out the OFC booth today on the Mall. Get a happy-face pin, say hello, and smile at someone.

"Imagine if even one person is impacted by Operation Friendly Campus, they can spread it on to hundreds," Helm said. "It could change the world."

Sheila Bapat is a political science sophomore. She can be reached at Sheila.Bapat@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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