Panelists featured in the Born This Way Foundation Launch, from left: Harvard President Drew Faust; Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree; Alyssa Rodemeyer; Kathleen Sebelius; Deepak Chopra; David Burtka; and UNL’s Susan Swearer.
On a typical Wednesday, Susan Swearer would be in her office in the basement of Teachers College Hall, preparing for classes and perhaps chatting with co-workers about her family or unseasonably warm weather.
Instead, on Feb. 29, she was in snowy Boston, on a Harvard University stage with Lady Gaga, asking the pop icon how best to empower young people during the kickoff of Gaga’s much-ballyhooed Born This Way Foundation.
Maybe not a typical day at the office, but for UNL’s nationally renowned anti-bullying expert, it’s starting to come with the territory.
Swearer, a professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences, helped Gaga launch the new foundation — which addresses issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development through research, education and advocacy — by leading sessions at a morning symposium at Harvard and then by participating on a select panel with the singer and others.
“It was, in many ways, a surreal day,” Swearer said Thursday after arriving back in Lincoln. “But it was a great day. (Gaga’s) platform is huge — which is the attraction for me, for linking academic research and findings to her voice, which has such far reach.”
Gaga’s representatives contacted Swearer, who co-directs the Bullying Research Network that promotes and assists international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers, last summer in preparation for the foundation’s launch. Over the next several months, Swearer consulted with and helped create resources for the foundation as it prepared to officially enter the national anti-bullying discussion.
On Thursday, anti-bullying’s place among the foundation’s “three pillars” was clear, Swearer said: The foundation stressed that all youth have a right to be safe, all youth need skills and all youth need opportunities to engage in positive activities.
“The message that I’m glad we were able to put out there on a large scale is that bullying is a mental health problem,” Swearer said. “The fact that (Gaga) wanted a psychologist on the panel tells me she recognizes that bullying is a complex and complicated issue.”
Also, Swearer said, she was able to emphasize during the kickoff event that it’s not just bullying victims that need help — focus, too, must be placed on children who are doing the bullying.
“That’s the program we’ve been working on for years,” Swearer said of her research. “How do we help these kids change their bullying behaviors? (Gaga) really drove that message home; it’s important to recognize that kids do both. They might be victimized at home and bully at school.
“That was the main point I wanted to get out there as a psychologist — and during the day, I felt like it did get out there,” she said.
On Thursday, she echoed Gaga’s blunt answer to a Wednesday question about BTWF’s likelihood of creating a kinder youth culture. She said progress, as always, takes time, but that events like Wednesday’s are an important way to move toward that change.
And, Swearer said, she would be happy to continue to help in any way with the mission of the foundation.
“It really is unprecedented,” she said. “During the launch I had the sense of being part of an historic moment. I was honored to be a part of it.”