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The College of Education and love as a protective factor

first friday

“Love” is  the College of Education’s (COE) theme for this academic year amid challenges that have taken a toll on everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. COE Dean, Dr. Shannon Dermer, decided that love was a topic that she would interweave throughout the events and activities of the year. “During COVID, people experienced a lot of separation issues, anxiety, trauma, loss, etc.,” says Dean Dermer. “Love, or a secure attachment, has long been known as a protective factor for children and adults. It contributes to a sense of wellness, belonging, and security.”

During Governors State University’s October Homecoming week, College of Education’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni gathered to hear Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, Co-director of the Center for Collaborative Brain Research at Bradley University, speak on The Protective Factor of Love on our Brains.

Dr. Russell-Chapin is an expert on the brain and counseling. “I wanted her to speak on love’s physical effects on the brain,” said Dermer. “Love is romantic and/or nurturing and it has observable, measurable effects on people and relationships.”

As Dr. Russell-Chapin explained, love and compassion are also keys to healing. Her enthusiastic, engaging talk, complete with pictures of brain scans, explained how humans have had a difficult time during the pandemic. “I have many decades of private practice and have never seen people lose all their coping strategies. I have never seen people suffer so much,” she reported.  “Those of us in the helping professions, we are in the right place and we are here to stay because everyone needs some help.” Russell-Chapin added that there is room for optimism and people can help themselves with activities such as getting outside, moving their bodies, and, especially, cutting down on screen time. She acknowledged that the screen time advice is the hardest for people to follow.

Before Russell-Chapin addressed the group, GSU President Cheryl Green offered some words of encouragement, noting that “some might scoff at the idea of academics talking about love.” But, she added, “I think their cynicism is rooted in a misunderstanding of what love is. I agree with bell hooks when she says ‘love is as important as work, as crucial to our survival as a nation as our drive to succeed.” She ended her remarks by exhorting attendees “to lean into this conversation about love tonight. And may we, as educators, lean deep into the power of love to ground ourselves, to care for our students.”

Connie Schrage, Administrative Assistant in the COE Dean’s Office, kept the Love theme in mind when planning COE’s fall all-college meeting. Tables contained suggestions for self-care and the meeting agenda included affirmations and reminded participants that those who engage in acts of self-care may experience less stress and more resilience. She is already planning the spring all-college meeting which will focus on looking outward with kindness, love, and acceptance of others. “GSU is a ‘kaleidoscope of people’ and just like a kaleidoscope when they are brought together it creates something very beautiful,” noted Schrage. 

The love theme was also on display during the well-attended October First Friday, co-sponsored by the College of Education and the University Library. The first 50 attendees received a copy of “What is Love?” by Mac Barnett. Attendees sipped on a love potion punch and shared their own ideas of what love is, including: “sacrifice”; “family”; “my wife”; “acceptance and freedom”; and “coming home to my puppy.”

As Russell-Chapin ended her formal remarks at the homecoming event, she issued a challenge to her audience. “What are you going to do for your brain and what are you going to do for someone else? Love in action is what we need now,” she added, with a nod to the late congressman John Lewis. 

As GSU prepares to take its winter break, Dermer also reminds us that “authentic connection is a no cost gift that can have a lifelong, positive impact.”