USM students give out 'free hugs' to show acceptance

USM students give out 'free hugs' to show acceptance

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Students were seen all over campus at Southern Miss on Thursday hugging one another.

Their goal for the day and everyday is to challenge other students to hug someone regardless of their background or beliefs.

"It's important that people on this campus, our students know that even though we're different we are accepting and we love everyone," Brandon Williams said, a USM student.

The 'Free Hugs' program was put on by the student-run organization Advocacy for Civility Change Equality Safety and Social Justice (ACCESS). The organization puts on programs regarding social justice issues.

"In ACCESS we are open minded people," Allie Stockstill said, a USM student. "We believe in things like free justice, civil justice, LGBTQ and all kinds of things like that. So today we're doing a program called 'Free Hugs.'"

ACCESS members held their free hugs signs high. The back of the sign described something about them.

"Mine, for example, says I'm a humanist so I believe that people are capable of doing good and I (have) bipolar disorder, which is OK," Stockstill said.

Students said a free hug showed that person is accepted for who they are.

"I think the biggest challenge if you see a different race, religion, and a different stance the person has is actually going up to the person and taking a step and saying not only do I see that, but I accept it, and I'm going to show you," ACCESS Adviser Marie Adkinson said.

"Oftentimes, looking at people you don't realize what they're dealing with or what they're going through but just giving them a hug may brighten up their day and it may turn anything around for them," Williams said.

ACCESS handed out over 100 'Free Hugs' bracelets to students that participated in the program as a way to remind students about the importance of acceptance.