Serial hugger, EqualityTV founder Lisa Mae Brunson visits ASU on Valentine's Day

Hugs were given in abundance at ASU on Valentine’s Day, thanks to a multimedia CEO on a mission to spread kindness across America.

Lisa Mae Brunson is the founder and chief executive officer of EqualityTV, an Internet-based media outlet that caters to audiences traditionally under-addressed in the television world. The network features alternative content geared toward marginalized circles such as minority ethnic groups and the LGBT community.

Brunson continued her mission of spreading acceptance and inclusion on Friday afternoon near the Memorial Union at the Tempe campus, where she and three companions stood equipped with homemade valentines and signs that read “Free Hugs.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” they shouted to passing students while holding their posters.

Students walking into the MU and passing the building on their way to class were bombarded by enthusiastic proclamations of camaraderie and red paper hearts inscribed with inspirational messages, and Brunson said the students responded enthusiastically to their presence on campus.

“Students were incredibly receptive (to hugging),” she said. “They got excited. They were more apt to do group hugs. There was a lot of peer influence, too. If one student did it, another would follow. I observed a lot of that.”

Students stopped often to receive Valentine’s Day hugs from the EqualityTV quartet and occasionally even joined the group temporarily, adopting a “Free Hugs” sign and periodically wrapping their arms around passersby.

Brunson began her mission of spreading love and friendship through hugging seven years ago, after her mother, living several hundred miles away at the time, expressed her depression at having not been hugged since her separation from Brunson’s father.

Horrified at the idea of someone dear to her feeling deprived of the physical comfort of an embrace, she drove five hours from Los Angeles to give her mother a hug in in New Mexico.

Her hugs campaign has only escalated from there. Since 2007, Brunson has given more than 7,000 hugs to people across the western part of the U.S.

“People crave human touch,” she said. “They want to be loved, they want to be accepted, and they want to be validated.”

Brunson estimated that she had hugged between 500 and 700 people since arriving at ASU on Tuesday, and she said that her experiences on campus have been incredibly touching.

“There was a student who stood in front of me who said, ‘I don’t get hugged often, and I’m not used to them,’" she said. "She didn’t know what to do, so I went and I grabbed her and I told her, ‘You deserve to be hugged often, and you are loved."

Brunson said she believes everyone deserves to be hugged often, and she will continue to spread love and acceptance through hugs for many years to come.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @megannphillips

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