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Dr. Leszek Sibilski, professor of sociology, might just be in love with love. He has spent the last year wondering if love can change the world, reducing poverty and boosting economic development. This is more than a fanciful romantic notion—it is a component of his Introduction to Sociology class, which has been well received by his students.
Sibilski says talking about love has become “uncool” and conversations are now more focused on dating or hooking up. In the last year, his students started to change all that—talking about love with people around the world.
The professor gave all of his introductory classes a survey assignment. He asked them to talk to more than 40 people across various age groups, ethnicities, religions, and other categories. Each subject was asked: “Is love still relevant?”
Part of the assignment was to encourage students to have face-to-face conversations rather than screen-to-screen communication. He also wanted students to learn about research methodologies in social science—including how to communicate professionally and elicit honest responses from their subjects.
Students weren’t so sure about the assignment at first. “The love project began with multiple laughs and jokes among the class,” said Andrea Lazo, a sophomore majoring in engineering.
And Lazo says the project was challenging. “At first I thought it was going to be very easy, but it wasn’t. When I began to ask people to be part of my project, then I realized it was not easy at all. People wanted to avoid the subject of love,” she said. But eventually, she received responses, including some “deep and sincere” ones: “I got to experience what people felt and thought about love,” she says.
What people thought about love often correlated with their ages. After collecting all the responses, the students discovered young people (under 12) and older people (over 65) believed more strongly in love than any other groups.
They also discovered that love (or talking about it) is contagious. Sibilski’s students asked all of their research subjects to comment online, in a blog he writes for the World Bank, as an informal way to collect the survey responses. And collect they did. More than 5,000 people have commented on the post in the last year; almost 40,000 people have viewed the post from around the world.
And the conversation kept going on social media.
On a personal note, Sibilski says he has been lucky to be surrounded by loving people himself, including his son and all the women in his life—his mother, wife, and daughter. “These women gave me power to be a better human being, and as a teacher I can extend that to my students,” he says.
And indeed his work in the classroom is a labor of love. The professor, who was a member of the Polish National Olympic Cycling Team, starts his 8 a.m. class with a few minutes of stretches, jumps and jogging in place. He jokes he can then start his class with “newborn students.”
Sibilski says it often takes him a few hours to “come down” after a class. “You are helping to formulate a better citizen locally and globally. Teaching is a lot of responsibility. You have to deliver.”