Published on March 26, 2024 by Kameron Brown  
Kristie Chandler and Clara Gerhardt with new book

The institution of marriage and the dissolution of some of those same unions have become deeply threaded into the fabric of American life and society, according to a new textbook on the subject, Marriage and Divorce in America: Issues, Trends, and Controversies. Bloomsbury’s recent publication serves as a wide-ranging resource that will help readers understand the history and current state of marriage and divorce in the United States, including their many cultural, economic, political, legal and religious facets. 

Contributing to this important resource and national conversation are two faculty members from Samford University Orlean Beeson School of Education: Clara Gerhardt, distinguished professor and character scholar in residence, and Kristie Chandler, professor and chair of the human development and family science (HDFS) department. Between the two, they contributed 10 encyclopedic entries to the new book which aims to increase education surrounding one of the nation’s cornerstones, the nuclear family, and the fluctuating nature of its status in American life.

“The family unit is a building block of a stable society; and the wellbeing of families tends to reflect and is affected by some of the concerns of that greater society,” said Gerhardt.

According to Gerhardt, when students studying HDFS course work, including classes such as Marriage and the Family, they are exposed to the complex recipes that create successful partnerships, which in turn create successful communities and ultimately nations.

“The new textbook is structured like an encyclopedia, with entries written by experts in the field. Those contributions reflect family science. This compilation serves as a guideline, summarizing current expertise on given topics. For that reason, accuracy and objectivity are important, as these types of publications become a go-to resource, as well as a voice for the profession.”

The composition speaks to the broad trends in relationships that are changing the landscape of American society, such as childcare, delayed marriages, blended families, and prevalence of marriage and divorce among various socioeconomic groups.

Developing a go-to resource is no small feat, despite Gerhardt participating in this kind of work before and having been featured in the Encyclopedia of Family Science. The studied professor cites personal experience as the inspiration behind her contributions.

“We write about what we know well, about the topics where we have an expert voice. In my case many of my entries relate to diversity and international factors affecting families. I like to write about the effects of translocation on families, international marriages, marriage and diversity, cultural assimilation and related topics, because the immigration experience is a part of my personal history and identity,” said Gerhardt. “Having lived on three continents, and being multilingual has affected and influenced how I see families. I teach an upper-level course on multicultural perspectives and infuse it with the empathy and understanding of a lived experience, built on the foundations of extensive training and professional expertise. Importantly, this course encourages our students to expand their cultural competence, a valuable and necessary quality and skill for the helping professions.” 

Building on personal experience, Gerhardt believes the creative process is enriched through collaboration and congeniality. As character scholar in residence, Gerhardt is tasked with mentoring her colleagues and strengthening their voices. This rewarding experience not only increases the academic output of Orlean Beeson School of Education but develops a culture of advocacy necessary for students in HDFS and necessary for the school’s experts to contribute to the national conversation.

In Chandler’s class, Family Law and Public Policy, students are equipped with the skills necessary to strengthen families through appropriate advocacy. Family units in the United States are often dependent on this kind of advocacy for the resources and policies needed to advance positive outcomes for families and communities.

“Public policy and specifically policies pertaining to marriage and the family, are subject to advocacy to ensure family friendly outcomes. Advocacy for family values affects not only communities but importantly the individuals within those family units, and the generations of tomorrow,” said Gerhardt.

This spirit of collaborative effort and the importance of personal experience is infused into the programs of Orlean Beeson School of Education and reflects the same spirit that is often attributed to the United States’ national success. Advocacy ensures that the well-being of the School of Education’s students and faculty spills over into the well-being of communities and of the country. It is this work that keeps Orlean Beeson School of Education a part of the national conversation in preparing students to educate, lead and serve.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.