In difficult times, people need something to hold on to.
Often, hope is that thing – the thing that keeps them going, the thing that keeps them from giving up, and the thing that gives life meaning.
Amid a global pandemic, political uncertainties, and the pressures of everyday life as a young adult, many college-aged people struggle to find hope.
“What gives you hope? is an art installation and speaker event focused on mental health that attempts to facilitate reflection on what can inspire hope so that participants can find it in their lives.
Nancy Morris, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Gannon’s education program, project leader, and senior planner, worked to bring people and projects together to make up this Gannon University initiative. Morris is part of the CHESS Speaker Series Committee, a group of faculty and staff from the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences who come together to coordinate the series.
This year’s theme is “Reinvent Now”. Each committee member has creative autonomy to create an event related to this year’s theme. Morris said when the committee formed in April 2021, the members were fresh out of a year of pandemic “and as a community we all felt like we were entering a time of reinvention and reawakening “.
“I felt very passionate about creating an event around mental health awareness, because that had been a concern across Gannon’s campus, and we were all experiencing mental health issues in one way or another. ‘another. My goal was to not only bring a speaker to campus to present and share about mental health, but also to think of a way that students and staff could come together to create something that would raise community awareness of this issue as well. and who we are. while experiencing.
As part of a shared creation, a work of art will be built that will allow everyone to answer the question “What gives you hope?” »
“The goal is to bring us all together and share the positive aspects of our lives that we cling to in difficult times,” Morris said.
The physical artwork will be on display during the speaker event, which will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 21 at the Waldron Campus Center, as well as throughout April. The committee wanted to launch these initiatives in April because April is the designated month of hope.
The artwork is intended to replicate the look of votive candles. When individuals answer the question, “What gives you hope?” they will place their answer, written on a rolled up coin
of paper, on the art structure, which will mimic a votive candle when the structure is backlit, shining the light from behind.
“I hope the shared art will create a connection with our student body, faculty and staff, and that we will come out of the experience feeling a little more community with each other,” Morris said. .
Active Minds national speaker Diana Chao will speak at the April 21 event. Chao is a first-generation Chinese-American from Los Angeles who graduated in 2021 from Princeton University where she studied geosciences, history and diplomacy. Chao was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 13 and survived a suicide attempt as well as a loss by suicide.
Chao said that in her darkest times she discovered healing through writing. Adopting the motto “Writing is humanity distilled in ink”, Chao brings the perspective of minority mental health as someone who grew up below the poverty line with parents who spoke no English. Chao often talks about the impact even the smallest acts of kindness have had on his life and sanity.
Chao also focuses on in-depth, practical mental health education that can be used to support and support each other.
“Dear Stranger,” Chao’s presentation, includes her personal story with perspectives on minority mental health and the importance of kindness.
Morris said Chao’s message fits well with the theme of hope and bringing people together.
“I hope people will remember that even if and when we feel alone, there are people who are there for us, who want to support us and that there is hope all around us,” said said Morris.
Active Minds was an integral collaborator in planning the artwork and the event, Morris said. Board and advisor Michael Madonia assisted in the formation of the project’s initial concept and helped structure Morris’ vision.
“Active Minds were instrumental in the initial ideation phase and were incredibly supportive from the start in helping me turn my initial idea into a concrete project,” Morris said.
Madonia said Morris reached out to Active Minds in the spirit of collaboration and to get students as involved as possible.
“Mental health and suicide issues are at the forefront of student health issues more than ever,” Madonia said. “I’m glad Dr. Morris had the foresight to connect with the group of students on campus whose sole purpose is to de-stigmatize mental health issues and openly dialogue about these difficult but important topics.
Madonia also said the message of hope that the art installation and speaker event are trying to convey is important in the context of mental health, because hope is what keeps people going when things get tough. difficult.
“When we lose hope, we become vulnerable to a host of other issues and symptoms,” Madonia said.
Gratitude is a way for people to find hope.
“Extending a kindness, taking inventory and being grateful for the things we have, even if they seem small, is the path to hope,” Madonia said. “Reaching out to someone else in need is a way to put life into perspective and uplift your spirit.”
Gannon’s educational organization, Student Pennsylvania State Education Organization (SPSEA), also supports the project through grants and volunteer support in the construction of the artwork and at the event.
Angela Howell, assistant theater professor and technical director, and students from the theater department are the primary designers and builders helping build the artwork.
At the speaker event on April 21, Katie Dickey, a social work major, will be exhibiting some of her own artwork, which she has created to express her own mental health journey.
The artwork will be on display on the first floor of the AJ Palumbo University Center from April 1 to April 6 and will move to the first floor of the Nash Library, where it will be on display from April 7 to April 13. She will also be on display at the April 21 speaker event at the Waldron Center.