Psychology students learn valuable life lessons in Death and Dying class

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Often referred to as a melting pot, the United States of America has more than 326 million individuals, all of which are from multicultural and different faith backgrounds. And while the U.S. Constitution allows these individuals to freely practice their personal beliefs, a lack of understanding and acceptance toward others can lead to difficult conversations and separation of people groups.

Mills_sideThis semester, Lipscomb University has launched a campus-wide initiative called Respect Leads, which challenges community members to intentionally seek ways to demonstrate respect toward others and to take the initiative to get to know people who may be different than you.

As a member of the Respect Leads committee, Andrea Mills, assistant director of Lipscomb’s Counseling Center and adjunct professor, has worked to incorporate this initiative into her Death and Dying class, an undergraduate psychology course within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

The Death and Dying class takes an academic approach to loss and the impact of death and dying on an individual and the community, while also emphasizing the importance of developing personal, interpersonal and religious resources to assist in facing one’s own death and helping others cope with such loss.

As aspiring professional counselors, it is important to expose students to different cultures and backgrounds so they can help best serve future clients, said Mills.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, Mills asked Daoud Abudiab, founder and president of the Faith and Culture Center in Nashville, to join the Death and Dying class to discuss the Muslim culture, particularly in relation to beliefs about death and dying.

Mills_side2“Respect Leads is all about learning from each other and choosing to listen and understand before we speak and defend,” said Mills. “Daoud spoke to the class about the beliefs and customs Muslims’ have regarding life, death and the afterlife. It is important to help expand the knowledge base of our students related to Middle Eastern customs and also help them to possibly dispel some misconceptions they have regarding that faith. The cornerstone of the Respect Leads initiative is to share Christ's love with everyone regardless of whether or not we agree on everything.”

In addition to giving an academic approach to death and dying, Mills says the course also evaluates how death and dying impacts the types of lives we lead today.

This semester, students within the Death and Dying course have engaged in a class project #BeccaToldMeTo, which was inspired by a terminally ill Canadian teenager named Rebecca Schofield who has engaged in random acts of kindness and has encouraged others across the world to do the same.

“This young lady wanted to leave a legacy and started a movement where she asked people to perform random acts of kindness and then post about it on social media with the hashtag BeccaToldMeTo,” said Mills. “Each person in our class decided to participate in that by performing a random act of kindness and trying to help Becca with the legacy she is leaving. They have the option to post about it on social media with that specific hashtag. Becca says she spends her days now looking up the hashtag and reading through all the kindness that is being spread.”

Mills says one of the things she loves most about teaching is getting to see the hearts of her Lipscomb students.

“The class took this assignment and made it into such a beautiful exercise of compassion and paying it forward,” said Mills. “Some chose to give to the homeless, others performed simple acts such as purchasing a meal or coffee for the person behind them in line. Others gave the beautiful gift of their time and energy by listening and spending time with people they may not normally interact with. Being present with people is sometimes the best act of kindness that we can share.”

Meg Mortensen, a freshman from Nashville, says she would like to one-day go into youth or family ministry, and that this course has given her newfound respect and compassion for others. 

“In my class, there are a variety of people with different cultures, backgrounds and traditions; and in our discussions, everyone shares their different perspective,” said Mortensen. “We have also had multiple guest speakers that come from different religions and backgrounds, and it has given me a new respect and understanding for people with different faith and cultural backgrounds.”

Mortensen says her Death and Dying class has also helped her personally grow in intentionality. 

“Learning about death and dying gives you a new perspective on life and changes the way you live,” Mortensen continued. “I think understanding the reality of death can move us to take action and get the things done in our lives that we want to do. It also moves us to savor the moment and to appreciate what we have. A part of our life journey includes the fact that we will all one-day die.” 

Although this psychology course provides an academic approach to death and dying, Mills says the byproduct of this class has really been about learning to make our lives as full of grace as possible, and to show Jesus to the people around us while we are living on this earth.

To learn more about the Death and Dying class, housed in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, visit: www.lipscomb.edu/psychology.