“You belong.” “Look how far you’ve come.” “It’s okay to fail.” “You are enough.”
Gonzaga students have recently been inundated by positive messages like these in the form of window decals that mysteriously appeared on campus over Halloween weekend. These decals have been spotted on the windows and doors of residence halls, offices and other buildings on campus, including College Hall and John J. Hemmingson Center.
Jenna Parisi, director of the Office of Health Promotion (OHP), said she has wanted to implement a project for a long time, but after her office was created last spring, there was finally an opportunity to do so. She worked with Instant Sign Factory in Spokane to make custom window decals featuring 10 different phrases, including things like “We love you,” and “You can do this.”
Parisi said she chose some of the messages based on phrases scientifically found to boost positivity. The others were based on recommendations from colleagues and faculty as to other phrases they thought may be effective. Then, after the decals were made, it was time to start hanging them up all over campus.
“We intentionally did it a little bit covert, we wanted to kind of put them up, see what the reaction was,” she said.
So far, that reaction has been generally good, Parisi said.
“I think it’s been largely positive,” she said. “People who are seeing us putting them up and kind of nodding and saying, ‘That’s cool,’ ‘That’s perfect,’ ‘That’s what I needed.’”
The decal campaign is a part of the OHP’s wider celebration of November as gratitude month. According to the OHP, the theme of gratitude was chosen in tandem with the Thanksgiving season, to encourage students to “intentionally take time to be thankful and reflect on what this year has given us.”
“[Gratitude] is a theme that consistently we know works,” Parisi said. “It’s a really effective strategy in terms of enhancing mental and
emotional well-being — expressing gratitude for things that we have — and so it’s a behavior that we want to encourage.”
“Feeling gratitude; recognizing the good that’s in your life; the people that care about you ... helps to boost and nurture our relationships, but also leads people to feel more positively, to feel increased well-being,” said Monica Bartlett, an associate faculty member and chair of the psychology department.
Bartlett has done extensive research into the concept of gratitude and how it affects people’s psychology.
“We can practice paying attention or noticing even those many small things that are really very beautiful or kind or good around us, that can bring some really important boosts in our sense of well-being; boosts in our sense of recognizing our relationships in doing well,” Bartlett said.
But the decal campaign is not only meant to help students who might need an emotional pick-me-up. Its goal is also to combat the silence that often surrounds mental health issues on campus.
“Especially with GU culture, there’s kind of this expectation to do more,” said senior Amy Bruza, a well-being intern at OHP. “That kind of culture brings an unreasonable amount of stress, anxiety, worry, depression, that students are dealing with but not talking about.”
Parisi suggests that students help to keep that conversation open by passing on the messages — whether physically, by taking pictures of the decals and sending them to friends who might be struggling, or just in spirit, by actively being encouraging and attentive to those around them.
The messages will remain up until the last few weeks of the fall semester, and will be taken down around finals week. Also at that time, OHP intends to put out a survey about the messages, collecting student feedback on the campaign. If that feedback is mostly positive, GU students may see more projects like this come the new year.
“Our hopes in terms of sustaining the project would be to roll out something like this again,” Parisi said.
She also added that for any future iterations of the project, OHP will ask students for their own ideas about messages they want to see around campus.
In the meantime, students are encouraged to join in on the conversation by engaging with the campaign on social media; using the hashtag #GUgotthis, or tagging OHP on Instagram (@gonzaga.ohp) and Twitter (@GonzagaOHP).
There are also gratitude postcards in the Crosby Center building that students can use to write to people in their lives they are grateful to, and OHP will host a gratitude-centric Health Hut on Nov. 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the John J. Hemmingson Center.
Editor’s note: Amy Bruza has previously written for The Gonzaga Bulletin as a contributor.