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Swearer goes on the road with Lady Gaga

UNL's Susan Swearer is on tour with Lady Gaga's Born Brave Bus tour. Swearer (in stocking cap) is pictured with Lady Gaga's mother Cynthia Germanotta.
UNL's Susan Swearer is on tour with Lady Gaga's Born Brave Bus tour. Swearer (in stocking cap) is pictured with Lady Gaga's mother Cynthia Germanotta.

This semester, Susan Swearer has been taking the bus to work.

That might not sound like all that big a deal — except the UNL professor’s mode of transportation has been Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus, and she’s been rolling around the country alongside the singer’s U.S. concert tour.

What is a professor of school psychology at UNL doing with one of the world’s most popular musical artists? Swearer, a national expert on bullying, and Lady Gaga have been collaborating since the launch of the singer’s Born This Way Foundation, which is designed to empower youth to create a kinder and braver world.

Swearer, who leads the foundation’s Research Advisory Board, has lent her expertise to the Born Brave Bus tailgate — a three-hour pre-concert haven where anyone under 25 can learn about resources on anti-bullying, suicide prevention and mental health services in their areas.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Swearer said last week. “I’ve seen first-hand that it’s been incredibly empowering for the kids, but it’s also been quite something for the volunteers involved as well.”

“It’s given us all a chance to see the wide variety of experiences that kids have. While our efforts have of course been focused on what kids would get out of it, I’d say that for the adults involved with this, it’s been a life-changing experience, too.”

On sabbatical this semester, Swearer joined the bus tour as it kicked off Jan. 14 in Tacoma, Wash., and has interacted with thousands of young concertgoers in places like Portland, San Jose and Los Angeles.

She has served as the tour’s behavioral health team leader, working in one of a series of “pods” that are set up in the tailgate area outside each concert venue. At each stop on the tour, attendees can peruse resources in the LGBT pod, a mentoring section, a “You Media/Hive Pod,” a local community resources area and a pod for behavioral health.

She said she’s seen and heard a range of testimonials in her time on the tour that has helped open her eyes to a simple truth — that kindness and acceptance are the keys to breaking down any number of social issues that she and her students often research.

Swearer recounted a young woman, her boyfriend and his mother perusing the Born Brave compound on a recent stop. Looking at the options at the food tent, the girl suddenly exclaimed that she was thrilled that there were vegan offerings.

“She said ‘This restores my faith in humanity!’,” Swearer said. “It was sweet, and it was one small thing, but in a way it was indicative of a larger point.

“During the stops, so many people came up and talked about how they felt like this was a place where they belonged and felt safe. So it has been really gratifying to see how powerful something simple, like acceptance, can be.”

After a short break, she plans to catch up with the tour as it rolls through the Midwest. When Gaga’s tour hits Kansas City on Feb. 4, Swearer will enlist UNL school psychology graduate students to help in her work with concertgoers.

Adam Collins, a fifth-year school psychology doctoral student, said he’s looking forward to the short trip to be able to work with Swearer and fellow UNL doctoral student Jenna Strawhun in Kansas City. Together, they’ll hear youngsters’ stories, help problem-solve and direct them to any local or national resources they might need.

“One of the things Dr. Swearer advocates is taking your research and putting it into practice,” Collins said. “Here’s a unique, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that.”

— Steve Smith, University Communications