“From Pop Icon to Classroom Staple: Taylor Swift’s Music Becomes a Must-Read for College Students”

The lyrics of “Better than Revenge” highlight a valuable lesson that is not taught in preparatory schools, but can be learned through the songs of Taylor Swift. According to Alexandra Wormley, a psychology PhD student at Arizona State University, Taylor Swift’s ballads are a valuable academic resource, particularly in times when more and more students are relying on online learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Wormley, there’s an opportunity to rethink the traditional classroom setup. She plans to teach “Psychology of Taylor Swift” in the upcoming semester. Her inspiration came after attending Swift’s Eras Tour in Glendale, Arizona, earlier this year. While discussing the concert with students in her office, they started coming up with ideas for a psychology class based on Swift’s music. That same day, they created a syllabus that explored various psychological themes from different albums.

Currently, there is a waitlist for the Swiftie course in the upcoming fall semester. This course is part of a series of courses that focus on Taylor Swift’s work, including literature and social psychology, offered at various universities such as Ghent University, University of Texas at Austin, New York University, and Stanford. These courses explore Swift’s lyrics, discography, and her potential influence. It is not uncommon for professors to offer courses based on popular culture. For instance, Duke University teaches students how to build a TikTok brand while incorporating business strategies. Harvard University has integrated #MeToo in their syllabi since the hashtag’s rise in 2017. Meanwhile, Georgia students have explored social issues by analyzing Kendrick Lamar’s music, and UT Austin offers “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” delving into Black feminism’s roots. Additionally, many universities have presented film critique opportunities through various “Harry Potter”-themed courses.

The Taylor Swift figurines available online may not be from Funko, but fans are still willing to pay $250 for them. The surge of courses centered around the singer raises the question of why her music has become a subject of academic interest. Educators recognize her immense popularity, highlighted by the success of her mega Era’s Tour that has won millions of dollars and fans. Despite not physically being at the show, even non-attendees have felt the impact of Swift’s music. With the announcement of her album “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” coming in October, more people are taking notice of the artist and her community. This increased attention may lead to greater class engagement, which is a significant motivator for students. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Z students have lost valuable years of education, and the enrollment of young people in colleges and universities is uncertain. A 2022 report by the ECMC Group discovered that over half of teenagers are open to alternatives to traditional four-year colleges, and a 2023 survey showed that they desire a reimagining of these programs.

According to Wormley, recent trends in higher education have created a challenge for instructors to help students catch up academically and socially while demonstrating the real-world value of their degrees. Elly McCausland, an assistant professor of English literature at Ghent University, plans to use Taylor Swift’s writing to help her students connect with classic writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare. By offering a way into these texts, she hopes to support her students through any feelings of alienation or confusion they may experience. Supporters of Swift studies argue that the focus is not on dumbing down academics but rather elevating something popular. These courses are meant to engage and excite students who have been through a lot and may need something relatable to get them back in the classroom. Wormley is particularly excited about week three of her class, which will explore Swift’s album “Fearless” and its themes of growing up, first love, and nostalgia, providing an opportunity for students to learn about social development theories.

According to McCausland, the “Fearless” course is particularly relevant for students who are transitioning from adolescence. The lesson will cover topics such as family, friendships, and new relationships, drawing on research by Seanna Leath from Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in studying the experiences of Black women and girls. McCausland believes that it is important to address Swift’s whiteness in these classes, especially given the dominance of white creators in fields such as literature. As part of the course, she plans to use songs from Swift’s “Folklore” album, including “Betty,” “August,” and “Cardigan,” to teach the technique of “writing back,” which involves telling the untold side of a story that the audience has already heard. The goal is to explore questions of language, power, and authority and to encourage students to find their own voice in the field of psychology. Ultimately, McCausland hopes to create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing their own experiences and interpretations of the material.

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