Students Embrace Displays of Affection
Free Hugs Campaign spreads love around campus
November 28, 2006 2:53 PM
SF State students walking to or from classes in the last few weeks might have seen microbiology major Robert Schmidt carrying a large sign that reads “FREE HUGS” high above his head.
“People have definitely looked at me strange,” Schmidt said. “Who wouldn't?”
“Most people are bewildered at first but I give them a hug and they walk away,” he said. “I didn't really know what to feel or expect on the first day. I guess I was expecting the worst and hoping for the best.”
Schmidt is a member of the Free Hugs Campaign, a recently popular international campaign aimed at the random act of kindness that is a free hug.
The campaign was started in 2004 by an Australian man under the alias of Juan Mann. According to the Free Hugs Campaign Web page, Juan Mann returned home from London after his world was turned “upside down.”
Sad that no one was at the airport to greet him, he went into the streets of his home Sydney with a large sign reading “FREE HUGS.”
The campaign proceeded with little international attention until Juan Mann’s hug footage was teamed with music from the band Sick Puppies and posted on YouTube. The video, posted Sept. 22, was viewed more than a million times in its first week and more than 7 million times total, elevating it to the 14th most viewed video in YouTube history.
Since then, Free Hugs Campaigns have begun in Japan, China, Slovenia, Latin American countries and the United States.
In late October, “FREE HUGS” signs could be found outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis before Game 5 of the World Series and three days later when Juan Mann made a guest appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Schmidt heard about the campaign on MySpace in November and took up the “FREE HUGS” sign the following week, carrying it above his head to and from classes and in his free time.
Meredith Fenseca is in Schmidt’s biology class and received one of his free hugs.
Schmidt’s most successful day was a Wednesday afternoon spent with his friend Liz Zunino. While standing in front of the Cesar Chavez Student Center, three other people joined in and together the group gave out more than 50 hugs in two and a half hours.
“Most people who know me would think it was out of character for me to go marching around holding a ‘FREE HUGS’ sign,” Zunino said. “But it was a fun and rewarding experience.”
Schmidt hugs more women than men, but does not use the random act of kindness as a dating service.
“A few girls have asked for my name,” he said. “But I've always replied, ‘No names, no numbers, no nothing. Just hugs.’”
“This is really not for me, it’s for people,” Schmidt said.
Although it’s all about humanity, there have been a few out of the ordinary hugs. One man thought he was trying to steal his wallet and while out in the rain last Friday he experienced one of the strangest hugs of the week.
“This guy sees me and comes racing at me,” he said. “Not even 5 feet from me, he slips. We're both ready for the hug, so we grab each other, but he continues to slip and fall backward and I land right on top of him. I'm sure it was not a pretty picture”
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