Campus ‘love notes’ inspire, motivate students

Before campus closures, the students, faculty and staff of Georgia State circulated through the bathrooms on a daily basis. Whether to wash their hands, brush their teeth or fix their hair and makeup, these people have all had to stand in front of the mirror.

Andrea Jones, the associate vice president for public relations and marketing, and the rest of Georgia State’s public relations team had an idea several weeks before Valentine’s Day to give each person looking into the mirror a little motivation to brighten their day. 

Messages, like “YOU are strong” and “YOU are beautiful,” have been carefully written onto the mirrors with chalk markers to remind students of their inner worth.

“College can be tough, and [our goal was to] to remind students that you’re a part of this community and [that] we care about you,” Jones said. “We wanted students to look in the mirror and see a little love note from the university that you’re strong and we support you.”

The public relations department meant for the messages to be a simple and uplifting “high five from the university.”

“This particular element was about reminding students [that] they’re part of a community and lifting their spirits, but I think [the Student Wellness Office] does a lot more of the direct outreach to students,” she said. “They do a lot of the more hands-on training; we’re just direct university messaging. Hopefully, you look at the message and feel inspired and go off to class feeling a little better.”

Some may simply see the message, smile to themselves, and continue their day without giving it a second thought. But the love notes could have a much deeper impact on those who need it most. 

“The important thing is that [the messages] are there for those moments that someone truly needs to read something like that to get through their day,” Gabrielle Cohen, a psychology student at Georgia State, said. “If it even helped one person, then it was worth it.”

There are a plethora of different effects that these reminders can have on the people who see them. 

“Most of us walk around with our brains thinking of all the ways we are not good enough,” Dr. Jill Lee-Barber, the associate vice president of student wellness, said. “We might feel alone or wonder if we will be able to have enough resources to meet the challenges of the day. The love notes are a way of giving a positive message that is in contrast to our fears.”

The messages themselves were created less than a week after the idea was first brought up. 

“We thought about linking it to Valentine’s Day and thought through what messages we could put up that might be uplifting or inspiring to students,” Jones said. “The idea came about quickly. We bought chalk markers and deployed some students and some of our staff to go around to highly trafficked bathrooms around the university to put up some inspiring messages.”

The idea was inspired, in part, by spreading self-love around Valentine’s Day. But it’s also a response to the negative impact technology has had on students’ mental health.

“I definitely think life is getting harder as the digital age provides many more opportunities to compare and compete,” Lee-Barber said. “The mind has three functions: to label, to make categories and to compare and contrast. Now in the digital age, young adults are exposed to many images and stories that they can only compare themselves to and end up on the losing end of the game.”

The friendships that students form on social media can be toxic due to the lack of real, meaningful interaction. 

“On the one hand, technology could connect us even more to each other, but on the other hand, we end up ‘connecting’ to people without even knowing their real names, or learn to interact, or be vulnerable in any way,” Lee-Barber said. “The antidote for this is being brave enough to honestly connect and be vulnerable.”

This situation has been heightened in recent weeks as students have been confined to their homes as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. With little human interaction outside of screen time, the lack of emotional connection is driving some towards a negative mental state. 

The Georgia State Counseling and Testing Center has been taking steps to counteract this effect. 

“In the current situation with COVID-19, we are working on ways to connect and provide services remotely to students,” Lee-Barber said.

This is just one of many ideas the Counseling Center has to keep moving forward through this semester and future years

“The biggest project the Counseling Center has is to find creative and innovative ways to provide more students with support and skills so that they can weather the difficult times maybe without actually needing counseling,” Lee-Barber said. “We want to help people be more mindful and to connect with others in more satisfying ways.”

To help students through the current crisis and through future mental health struggles, Lee-Barber offers a piece of simple advice. 

“I think it has always been important, in fact the most important thing, to stay connected to others,” she said. “Most humans have the same problems — not feeling good enough, wondering if their resources will meet demands and longing to belong.”

Positive emotional bonds, rather than negative connections or none at all, are a key element in keeping one’s mind healthy and strong.

“In the current climate, sometimes people find entertainment or connection in putting other people down or shoving them out, or even just venting about negative events with no purpose,” Lee-Barber said. “The love notes are a way to encourage a different type of connection that could be more nourishing.”