Pop stars and politics

Political science professor Shawn Donahue shares his two loves: politics and Taylor Swift

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A Natural Sciences Complex classroom is packed for a Cases in Civil Liberties class with professor Shawn Donahue, who’s presenting his 17th slide on Allied Structural Steel Company v. Spannaus.

Suddenly, the chorus of Taylor Swift’s “22” erupts in the background. Everyone is looking around to see whose AirPods momentarily disconnected. 

But the 2012 pop classic isn’t coming from the lecture seating.

 It’s coming from the front of the room.

It’s Donahue’s ringtone.

 Donahue is a legend in the political science department, known for his anecdotal-style lectures and tangent-based bonus questions. Growing up in southern Indiana near Louisville, Kentucky, his parents were small business owners. His interest in politics developed at a young age, when he lived across the street from the town courthouse. He became a Swift fan later, attending his first Swift concert in 2009. Donahue has since met celebrities and politicians alike, had interactions with Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and is on first-name basis with Andrea Swift, Taylor’s mom. 

 But his fascination with Swift isn’t about who she is: it’s about what she sings about.

“She writes her songs herself. They weren’t written for her,” Donahue said. “So they’re kind of stories of her life. They’re relatable.” 

He tries to bring this same relatability factor to his classes.

Swifties aren’t usually known to be experts in constitutional law and voting rights, so Donahue’s two passions make for an unlikely combination.

But some students aren’t surprised by his music taste.

Rachael Braun, a senior political science major, said Donahue is an “interesting character.”

“His random tangents and wild stories keep you engaged in his class, while still [helping you] learn something,” Braun said. “Although he isn’t the stereotypical Taylor Swift fan, it isn’t surprising that he is one.”

Donahue said students likely describe him as “quirky” but also knowledgeable, as his interest in law has followed him throughout his life.

As a boy, he would watch as the local politicians and lawyers went about their business and dreamt of joining them one day.

  Donahue earned his B.A. and J.D. from Indiana University, later receiving his M.A. and recently his Ph.D. from Binghamton University. 

But Donahue realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer.

“I didn’t like being a lawyer,” he said. “I didn’t like being around other lawyers. And did I want to do it for the next 30 years? My answer was no.” 

This realization led him to “Shake It Off” toward an academic career.

The self-proclaimed “Swiftie” will see his 30th ‘T-Swift’ show next year, just past the 10-year anniversary of his first live Swift show.

Donahue’s favorite Swift album is “Speak Now,” because it was her first entirely self-written piece. Donahue doesn’t have a single favorite song but has a favorite song from each of Swift’s albums, with highlights including “Enchanted,” “Love Story” and “Should’ve Said No.”

After attending almost 30 concerts –– some in the front row –– Donahue has become familiar with more than just Swift’s music. Donahue has also met other concert regulars and come to know Andrea Swift well as they always wave when they run into each other at shows. 

Donahue is a T-Swift trivia master. He knows a wide range of facts all the way from Andrea Swift’s cancer battle to who Swift opened for at different concerts in the beginning of her career.

Donahue’s interests are far from expected but show it doesn’t matter what you pursue, as long as it makes you happy. 

Matt Rossi, a junior economics major, said Donahue’s overlapping interests bring a refreshing take to political science classes. 

“Lots of real-world political insight from a guy that loves Taylor Swift is not something you see every day,” Rossi said. 

Reilly Mullen is an assistant web editor and can be reached at reilly.mullen@ubspectrum.com or on Twitter @ReillyMMullen.

REILLY MULLEN


Reilly Mullen is an asst. features editor.