Rebecca Swanson

Rebecca Swanson, Undergraduate student, Music Education, Organ Performance

Explores music education in prison

Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa
Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Mary L. Cohen, head of the Music Education Department
What is your degree program and expected graduate date? I will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education and a Bachelor of Music in Organ Performance in May of 2022.
Please describe your research: Through the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates, I participate in research examining the applications of music education in prison abolition, peacebuilding, and social justice. As a student researcher, I assist Dr. Cohen in her research on music education in prisons, help with a graduate research study about relationships between formerly incarcerated individuals and their family members, and will co-write a book chapter about peacebuilding and music-making practices.  My research also involves creative scholarship with the Oakdale Community Choir, such as songwriting, directing, and creating a visuals for the original song “Remember: Be Love,” written and performed in the Oakdale Prison.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? This research fits into the broader context of prison abolition and reformation of the criminal legal system in the United States. Instead of supporting a system that provides “justice” through the means of punishment and revenge, it is possible to implement healing and restorative approaches to a system that supports both perpetrators and victims of crimes. Such approaches could involve making music, which can in turn help give a voice to those who have been silenced, heal wounds, and develop caring communities.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I began researching with Dr. Cohen in May of 2019. One of my responses for an assignment in Dr. Cohen’s Peacebuilding, Singing, and Writing in a Prison Choir course turned into an idea for a co-written journal article submitted to the Music and the Arts in Action Journal. I enjoyed the research process and Dr. Cohen’s area of research so much that I wanted to continue assisting and developing my own researching skills.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Since being involved in research, my academic skills have greatly improved and I have refocused my goals and priorities as a music educator. I feel more confident in my writing and research abilities and can more effectively manage my time and energy. Participating in research  also allows me to view my class assignment with a new lens. I am thinking more critically about what I learn in my classes and can compare the ideas to what I research independently. Taking the time to consider multiple viewpoints allows me to develop my own teaching philosophies and decide how I will use music education to positively impact others. Researching topics in music education has taught me that music is powerful, and that even though I am young, I still have a voice and have the potential to make a difference.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? After graduation, I plan to teach elementary or middle school music at a public school district while also getting involved in community music and performing professionally. I want to continue to explore the connections between music education and social justice and find ways to make music education more accessible in my community. In the future, I am interested in pursuing a graduate program in Music Education and continuing to research topics that I am passionate about.

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