Students in a Social Media for Marketing business class have been busy developing a social media initiative they’ve named Rhody Ripple.

The students were tasked with creating a social media campaign to combat violent extremism. To do that, they created their own marketing agency called C.R.E.A.T.E., which stands for “Choose Resilience Empower All Teach Empathy,” and have partnered with the Department of Homeland Security and Edventure Partners, a company dedicated to experiential learning. The students finally launched Rhody Ripple on March 10, 2017.  

The student agency’s first press release explained the campaign’s title. “The campaign tagline, Rhody Ripple, adapted from the Robert F. Kennedy quote, paraphrased – acts to improve the lot of others create a tiny ripple of hope, and collective ripples can build a current that can sweep down walls of oppression and resistance.”

Through the online movement, these students hope to spread what they call a “ripple of hope through small acts of inclusion.” They are targeting a “silent majority” who oppose violent extremism, but do not necessarily understand how their actions might prevent it.

George Maris, a senior marketing major and team leader for C.R.E.A.T.E’s public relations efforts, gave his perspective on the project.

“In our preliminary research we found that messages of hope and empowerment are just as effective at combating violent extremism as messages directly targeted towards it. So Rhody Ripple is all about inclusion especially in our URI community. We want people to feel connected to one another and the way we pursued that is through four different challenges, and the challenges were to make people inclusive. [They] involved meeting new people, posting something on your social media account, [and] incorporating other people,” Maris explained.

Participants in the challenge, using a hashtag on social media, would share their attempts at completing the challenges and become a part of the campaign themselves. Maris said that the group’s goal was to collect more than 2,000 challenge submissions.

“For each challenge completed, an individual will fill out a heart and then we’ll put together all those hearts at our final event, symbolizing the inclusion of our community and what we tried to accomplish,” he said.

In the end for their final event coming up in May, Maris said that the paper hearts will become one long chain which they hope will set an official Guinness world record for the longest recorded chain of hearts.

Even though it was a challenge at first to get people to use their own social media to participate, Maris said C.R.E.A.T.E. eventually received plenty of support and it was a great opportunity to experience working with the public.

“It’s been a lot for a college course but it’s a great opportunity. I haven’t had any experience like this in any other college class. Being this involved with the public or being outside of the classroom, I’ve never had that before,” he said.  

Emily Whittum, the coordinator for the entire C.R.E.A.T.E agency and a senior public relations major, also gave her take on “the Rhody Ripple.” She thinks the campaign has taken off for all the right reasons.

“Once we got a strong base of what we were looking for, the rest of URI that we spoke to could really latch onto that too,” Whittum said. “People are participating in our challenges, and introducing themselves to others, and we’ve got some notable people in the university [to participate] like the Athletic Director, club sports have taken part in it, Senate, has taken part, and I think that’s helped to facilitate what we’re doing just because they have a big following.”

Despite this, college students’ conflicting schedules could get in the way. With nearly every student in the class involved in some type of major organization on campus, the logistics weren’t always easy. But, all those diverse perspectives were an advantage sometimes, too.

“We got really lucky in this class and almost everyone is involved in some type of group or organization on campus, and just one person in this class can bring in 50 people that are going to engage because they can get it out to them,” said Whittum. “It’s not a normal classroom where our professor just stands up and tells us that we’re going to be doing. It’s definitely a collective effort. So I think that being with students that are confident in their ideas has been the base of what has made this project take off.”

Whittum also believes that the paper hearts that participants receive after an inclusiveness challenge are an important symbol for what the students at C.R.E.A.T.E are doing.

“We’re not just tying paper hearts together and saying ‘that’s the world record’ but every one of those hearts showcases a challenge and someone who’s taken part in our initiative,” she said. “That’s the part of the idea that’s most important.”

On Tuesday, May 9, the students will make their official attempt at that world record, being reviewed by Guinness, at 9:30 a.m. in the Memorial Union Gallery.