A Peek Into Jan Term: Social Change Playlist Rocks Campus

Political Science Professor Zahra AhmedWhat is music’s role in social change and political mobilization? Political Science Professor Zahra Ahmed is cranking it up a notch in her Jan Term class, Social Change Playlist, with a JBL Flip speaker–ready assortment of tunes and a serious reading list that uncovers music’s influence on social change.

The course will look at how music can promote awareness and action in terms of important sociopolitical issues. Students will study education, poverty alleviation, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, post-trauma recovery, and social justice, analyzing scholarship in each of these areas. At the same time, the class will listen to various forms of music each week. This will allow students to link their academic understanding of the relationship between music and social change with their real-time musical experiences.    

“What I’m hoping is because music is so broad and social movements are broad, too—there are so many of them—is that (1) students deepen their academic understanding of what a social movement is and how it actually operates; and (2) that not only by sharing their own music but by hearing music that inspires other students, they’ll take that inspiration and it will foster some seeds of political motivation in whatever kind of engagement they want to be creative with,” said Ahmed. “I hope the creativity of the music inspires them to be creative with their political engagement.”

Global music to be explored includes folk music, prison choirs, hip-hop, orchestral, reggae, and music that falls into what is known as “other” categories. The course aims to foster rich conversations and dialogues about the ways that music can uplift and mobilize individuals and communities by exploring case studies, readings, videos, and participatory activities. Students are not required to have a background in music.

Ahmed plans to run the class like a semi seminar: “Students have to bring in their discussion and questions, and songs that inspire them,” she said, indicating that there will be listening sessions each day. “What I hope surprises them is that maybe they’ll hear some musical forms that they hadn’t before or didn’t think they liked, but when they feel the impact that it’s had on their classmates, it might change their minds—it might open them up a little.”