Put A Sock In It: BC Alum Puts Two Feet Forward In Anti-Bullying Campaign

College students leave socks lying around the laundry room floor every day, not realizing that one single sock can launch a global movement.

The Misfit Sock originated as a children’s book. It has since developed into an anti-bullying and self-love campaign that has touched children and adults all over the world.

It all began in the laundry room of Karen Kiefer, associate director for the Church in the 21st Century Center and BC ’82. Her daughters would often ask what was going to happen to all of the extra socks, the ones without matches. “I’m thinking I’m just going to throw them out,” Kiefer said. “But they’re thinking, ‘No, they’re just lost and alone, and you have to make them feel loved again.’ Only a child’s heart can understand that.”

With this in mind, Kiefer wrote a children’s book The Misfit Sock telling the story of two socks that fall in love and are separated in the laundry room. The socks are labeled misfits and cast aside, before eventually realizing their worth by the end of the book. The story’s message, however, transcended the laundry room and expanded into today’s Misfit Sock movement.

“When people don’t fit in, or when they’re different, or when they’re lost or feel alone, we somehow don’t want to touch that, and we want to get rid of that, so we put it in the ‘misfit sock’ pile,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer knew she had found something with meaning, and she wanted to get the message out further. She began to use a misfit sock as a catalyst for conversation about not only what it feels like to be different, but also about the importance of celebrating these differences.

“I think a lot of kids really step away from their gifts, and their talents, and their differences because they’re afraid of being bullied or being made fun of,” Kiefer said. “And they’re just not ready to stand up.”

The misfit socks, however, are helping them to do so. “The misfits are helping people stand up and realize it’s okay to be different, and have a larger discussion about what is different about [themselves],” Kiefer said. “What makes you different does make you great, and that’s a really important message. We’re celebrating not only diversity of culture, but diversity in ideas and expression.”

This idea about diversity of ideas and expression is what has made The Misfit Sock so relevant at the University. The initiative is partnered with the Campus School, and in the past it has held a handful of fundraising events on campus. Kiefer said the movement fits well at BC in particular, given its Jesuit ideals.

“This is so Jesuit,” Kiefer said. “It’s not only service to others, but also service to yourself. Love yourself, and then you can love others and give back to others. I love how in the Misfit Sock story that sock is filled with spirit—that’s what BC wants for all their students, to fill themselves with that spirit.”

And BC students have been receptive to this, and many have found ways to get involved. The part of the initiative on campus that Kiefer feels to be most special is that there are so many things that can be done with it, so many directions it can go. Students that decide to get involved can each add his and her own spin.

“I love that you can leave your mark on this project,” Kiefer said. “There are so many different ways to make it work. We’re open with how people want to spread the Misfit movement and how they can bring it into their own lives.”

A BC student designed the website for Misfit University, the faction of the Misfit Sock initiative that targets students. Another student designed the national mascot for the campaign, which happens to be an Eagle. Many others have come forward, as well, finding different ways to use their own talents to spread awareness of and promote participation in the cause.

“I preach to one,” Kiefer said. “There’s one kid in this room that’s going to take what I’m saying, and they’re going to start something, and they’re going to make a difference.”

One group on campus that’s been particularly influential surround BC athletes. Athletes have participated in the movement by wearing mismatched socks to their lifts and on the field, spreading their participation via social media. Kiefer is passionate about pairing the Misfits with Athletics because of the camaraderie that sports create. “I think when people are bullied or put down they feel alone,” she said. “The power of sports is that it brings people together in a big form, and I love that that form can support people and say, ‘This is wrong, you can’t treat people like this,’ while at the same time sending that message that differences matter.”

The book’s underlying messages have expanded into a variety of projects—service projects in elementary schools using misfit socks, sock drives, Misfit Manners, Misfit University, The Misfit Pioneer Program, and The Million Misfit Sock March, among others.

The Million Misfit Sock March is the campaign’s namesake. Each year during National Bullying Prevention Month in October, the company hosts the Million Misfit Sock March, a day on which individuals wear mismatched socks to embrace their inner misfit.

“We thought the Million Misfit Sock March was a clever name, hoping we could get a million people to wear mismatched socks on one day a year,” Kiefer said. Last year, over 500,000 people cited participating in the march. This year, the march will take place Oct. 23 and 24, and Kiefer predicts that even if they don’t record their participation, over a million people will participate.

The March centralizes the campaign, but the beauty of it according to Kiefer is that it can be taken so many different directions. The Misfits are seen everywhere from the University of Las Vegas Nevada Women’s Basketball Team to preschool classrooms and Girl Scout troops in Paris. People all around the world are using the method of misfit socks to speak out against something that touches so many.

“Some people have said, ‘Isn’t misfit a bad word?’” Kiefer said. “And I say, ‘No, that’s the whole thing.’ We’re changing the definition of the word misfit. Misfit is magnificent, and it’s empowering to connect with your inner misfit. We’re all misfits in a beautiful way.”

Featured Image courtesy of Karen Kiefer

Madeleine Loosbrock

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