Art piece and event to reflect on hope

CHESS Speaker Series presentation to focus on mental health



Hope is oftentimes the thing that people hold onto during difficult times. Many college-aged people struggle to find hope — especially amid a global pandemic, political uncertainties and the everyday pressures of life as a young adult and stressors of college.

Anna Malesiewski, Features Editor

In challenging times, people need something to hold onto.

Oftentimes, 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 Brings You Hope?” is a mental health-focused art installation and speaker event that attempts to facilitate reflection on what may inspire hope so that participants are able to find it in their lives.

Nancy Morris, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Gannon’s education program, the project’s lead and primary planner, has worked to bring together people and projects to make up this Gannon University initiative. Morris is part of 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 “Reinventing Right Now.” Each member of the committee has creative autonomy to create an event, as it relates to that year’s theme. Morris said when the committee formed in April 2021, members were just emerging from a year of the pandemic “and as a community we were all feeling like we were coming into a time of reinvention and reawakening.”

“I felt very passionate about creating an event around mental health awareness, as it had been a concern across all of Gannon’s campus, and we were all experiencing challenges with mental health in one way or another. My goal was to not only bring a speaker to campus to present and share on mental health, but also to think of a way that students and staff could come together to create something that would also bring awareness and community to this issue and what we are all experiencing.”

As part of a shared creation, a piece of art will be constructed that will allow individuals to answer the question, “What brings you hope?”

“The goal is to bring us all together and share positive aspects of our lives that we hold onto in difficult times,” Morris said.

The physical art piece will be on display at the speaker event, which will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, at the Waldron Campus Center, as well as throughout the entire month of April. The committee wanted to launch these initiatives in April because April is the designated month of hope.

The piece of art is meant to replicate the look of votive candles. When individuals answer the question, “What brings you hope?” they will place their response, written on a rolled-up piece

of paper, on the art structure, which will emulate a votive candle when the structure is backlit, shining light up from behind.

“I hope that the shared art brings connection to our student body, faculty and staff, and that we will come away from the experience feeling a little bit more in community with each other,” Morris said.

Diana Chao, an Active Minds national speaker, will be speaking at the April 21 event. Chao is a first-generation Chinese American from Los Angeles, and a 2021 graduate from Princeton University where she studied geosciences, history and diplomacy. Chao was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 13 and is a suicide attempt survivor as well as a suicide loss survivor.

Chao said that in her darkest moments, she discovered healing through writing. Adopting the motto “Writing is humanity distilled into ink,” Chao brings the perspective of minority mental health as someone who grew up below the poverty line with parents who didn’t speak English. Chao often talks about the impact that even the smallest acts of kindness had on her life and her mental health.

Chao also focuses on in-depth, actionable mental health education that can be used to support oneself and each other.

“Dear Stranger,” Chao’s presentation, includes her personal story with perspectives of 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 individuals take away that even if and when we feel alone, there are people who are here for us, who want to support us, and that there is hope all around us,” Morris said.

Active Minds was an integral collaborator in the planning of the art piece and event, Morris said. The executive board and adviser Michael Madonia assisted with the formation of the initial project concept and helped bring structure to Morris’ vision.

“Active Minds were instrumental in helping to work through the initial ideation phase and have been an incredible support from the beginning to help turn my initial idea into a concrete project,” Morris said.

Madonia said that Morris reached out to Active Minds in the spirit of collaboration and in an effort to maximally engage students.

“Issues of mental health and suicide are at the forefront of student health issues today more than ever,” Madonia said. “I’m pleased that Dr. Morris had the foresight to connect with the student group on campus whose sole purpose is to destigmatize issues of mental health and to openly dialogue about these difficult but important topics.”

Madonia also said that the message of hope that the art installation and speaker event attempts to portray is important in the context of mental health, because hope is what keeps people going when things get difficult.

“When we lose hope, we become vulnerable to a host of other problems and symptoms,” Madonia said.

Gratitude is one way people can find hope.

“Extending a kindness, taking inventory and being thankful for the things we have, however seemingly small, is the path to hope,” Madonia said. “Reaching out to someone else who is in need has a way of putting life in perspective and raising your spirit.”

Gannon’s education organization, Student Pennsylvania State Education Organization (SPSEA), is also supporting the project through grant funding and volunteer support in the construction of the art piece and at the event.

Angela Howell, an assistant professor of theatre and technical director, and students from the theatre department are the core designers and builders in helping to construct the art piece.

At the April 21 speaker event, Katie Dickey, a senior social work major, will have some of her own art on display, which she has created in expression of her own mental health journey.

The art piece will be on display on the first floor of the A.J. Palumbo Academic Center from April 1-April 6 and will move to the first floor of the Nash Library, where it will be displayed from April 7-April 13. It also will be on display at the April 21 speaker event in the Waldron Center.


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