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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Are you ready for it? Taylor Swift course hits UF Honors Program

The Spring 2024 class will analyze Swift’s music alongside other iconic female songwriters

Ten seconds. That’s about how long it took for the 15 spots in Musical Storytelling With Taylor Swift and Other Iconic Female Artists to fill when the UF Honors Program opened its early registration Oct. 24.

The class is one of many Swift-themed courses hitting college campuses, a phenomenon that combines “Miss Americana” with the academic world.

Taylor Swift is one of the most popular singers worldwide. Despite the ebbs and flows of scrutiny she’s faced in the past, her latest Eras Tour and album re-releases have achieved record-breaking success. 

Melina Jimenez, an associate instructional professor at the UF English Language Institute, does not consider herself a Swiftie. In fact, for most of her life, she rarely listened to the singer.

But after participating in an online writing workshop this summer dedicated to Swift’s music and writing style, she was surprised at how in-depth her lyrics were.

“I wanted to see what all the buzz is about,” Jimenez said. “It made me want to create a space where students could talk about it.”

Jimenez is no stranger to outside-the-box classes. In the past, she’s taught courses based on books such as “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and “A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor” by Hank Green.

Intrigued by the singer’s popularity and dedicated fanbase, and with the help of two honors program students who serve as peer instructors, the Taylor Swift class became a reality.

The Spring 2024 one-credit class will be discussion-oriented, each week centering on themes present in songs by Swift and other female songwriters, such as aging, old flames, karma and double standards. 

“People have very strong reactions because she’s a woman,” Jimenez said. “She can sing about a topic and a man can sing about a topic and she gets all the hate, where men don’t get any reaction at all.” 

The class will also explore the lyrics of other popular female singers, such as Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton. 

Caroline Carter, a 21-year-old UF mechanical engineering senior, is one of the peer instructors for the course. Her Swiftie journey began in 2009 when her mother brought home Swift’s latest album, “Fearless” on CD. When each new album was released, they would listen to it on repeat in the car together. 

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“I feel like anyone could find something to relate to even if they don’t resonate with all of her music,” Carter said. 

The other peer instructor for the class, 21-year-old computer science senior Karina LaRubbio, didn’t get into the Swift scene until college where she found herself resonating with her music.

“The way she writes about her experiences going from being a little bit more surface level to telling these really complex stories sucked me in,” LaRubbio said. 

LaRubbio is not only excited to build community in the class but also to discover new music and artists that her students bring to the table.

This isn’t the only time a college course has been shaped around a celebrity personality. 

New York University offered a media class surrounding Lana Del Rey’s stardom in 2022. In 2014, Rutgers University held a Black feminism course crafted around Beyonce’s work. Other celebrities like Harry Styles, Nicki Minaj and Kanye West have also all been studied as topics of a university course. 

UF’s Spanish department also offers courses about Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee.

But what distinguishes Swift from the rest is the sheer number of colleges offering unique Swift-themed classes. 

There’s Psychology of Taylor Swift at Arizona State University, Literature: Taylor’s Version at Belgium's Ghent University and Taylor Swiftory: History & Literature Through Taylor Swift at the University of Missouri, to name a few.

Yu-Hao Lee, an associate professor at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, said Swift’s success as a class subject is explainable. 

“Mainly, it’s just a way to relate with the power of fans out there, to get people interested in the courses and to see how we can apply our research and our disciplines and perspectives to analyze something that’s really popular,” Lee said.  “I think Taylor Swift is just this great, giant star that we can attach to anything.”

Lee’s research explores media's psychological and emotional effects, including parasocial relationships between celebrities and fans.

“Because of the way social media allows us to have really easy and more frequent access to Taylor Swift, she seems much more vivid, like a real person,” Lee said. “She’s really, really good at using social media to build her image and tell her stories.”

With a constant stream of Easter eggs and hidden messages in her work, Swift’s fans are certainly familiar with dissecting the details of her 10 albums. 

Despite typically only holding her classes for one semester, Jimenez is open to the idea of teaching the class again, just so long as she can find another Swiftie to teach it with, she said.

But for now, she is excited to listen to the songs with her class and find commonalities throughout all of Swift’s eras.

“The way that we’re setting it up, for me, is much more interesting because we’ll be able to look at the same theme throughout all ten of her albums,” Jimenez said.

Contact Bonny Matejowsky at Follow her on Twitter @bonnymatejowsky 

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Bonny Matejowsky

Bonny Matejowsky is a third-year journalism major and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When she’s not writing, you can find her thrifting or watching Twin Peaks.

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