Lang Civic Engagement & Social Justice



First year Gural Scholars with guest speaker Christine Buckley. 

First year Gural Scholars with guest speaker Christine Buckley. 

Code Switch is an NPR podcast in which journalists of color tackle issues of the week with facts, insight and humor often through the lens of culture. One of my favorite parts of the show is when they ask their guests: What song is giving you life? It is such a good question because it lets you know what people are listening to, provides you with new music options, and provides a possible bonding-off point around a song, or artist. It is also a reminder that there are many ways to do self-care, jamming on the Q train to a song on repeat is one of them!

As a teacher in the Gural Scholars Program, I have the honor of sitting around a table of inspiring young people who are making the world a better place. Through scholarship, activism, art making, volunteerism, research and their friendships, they are world building; creating a place where we don’t ignore race, gender, class, inequality and the uneven rate of each other’s life chances.

As part of the class, I will sometimes bring in a guest to speak with us. Maybe it is someone from within The New School who is doing important work we need to know more about, or an activist friend whose approach to social change I think is important to share. When the guests come, I often end the class by asking everyone to share something they learned over the last 60 or 90 minutes, and - inspired by Code Switch - to name a song that is giving them life. I like to think that this braids the lessons of the class in with the music being shared, creating a positive connection. I also think it creates one last opportunity for people to give of themselves, to pass along joy before we break to go our separate ways for the day.

Sometimes I will create a playlist out of the songs mentioned to capture the mood of the class, or just because such good music was shared and I want to remember it for the future. There are many ways to help students to take ownership of knowledge, and working with them to pair it up with something they already like—such as a song—helps to build bridges in the mind. I am not suggesting the music selected in class will always make the students feel a connection to what the guest speakers share. Rather, I think knowledge is best retained when it gets mixed with ideas and influences already kicking around in our heads.

This playlist is from last week when food stylist and herbalist Christine Buckley came to the first year Gural Scholars class. I think the selected music actually reflects the mood of the class and what was shared. One of the biggest take-aways the scholars had was Buckley’s belief that we should work with our bodies and not against them. That sometimes we need to do our laundry, read 100 pages in a week, and sometimes we need to eat a cheeseburger and dance alone in our bedrooms. It was a healthy reminder that there is no one way of being in the world, and that often the guilt and shame we accrue trying to do right, or be good, can be more damaging than just living our life. I think these songs reflect that; they are fun and have rhythms that invite the body to chill and laugh - but still dance. It is these things, and so much more that can give us life!

Listen to the Gural Scholars playlist LEARNING TO WORK WITH/NOT AGAINST here!

Ted Kerr is a professor at Eugene Lang College in the Gural Scholars Program. Outside of teaching, he is a writer and organizer working around HIV/AIDS.