What are you listening to, WFU?

Breaking social conventions and fostering community, one song at a time


Leanna Bernish

Junior Leanna Bernish asks a student to share the music she is currently listening in an effort to break social norms while outside Tribble Hall.

Leanna Bernish, Contributing Writer

I’m sitting in the Reading Room of ZSR right now, dancing to Florence + the Machine. I see someone to my right tapping their foot in rhythm to a tune unknown to me. I’m often curious what other people are listening to as they make their way across campus, study in the library and work out in the gym. Odds are, we probably are listening to some of the same songs or artists but have no idea because we are all existing in our own worlds. Social convention prevents us from asking one another what’s floating out of our headphones.

What would happen if we broke this convention? We could share music with each other around campus to weave together a collaborative community playlist. In a similar pursuit of breaking social conventions, I asked people if I could share a song with them as I walked between classes for a social psychology project last fall. It was a bit awkward at first, but the people who agreed to my proposition enjoyed the song and seemed to leave in a good mood. It showed me that we don’t really have to be strangers if we don’t want to be. Asking people what they were listening to further reaffirmed this because it showed me that it just takes a hello and a question to break through social convention.

During the summer of 2021, I conducted research with Dr. Donovan Livingston on the roles and perceptions of music for Wake Forest students during the summer of 2020. We found that the classes of 2021 – 2024 listen to a wide variety of music and are generally open to new music and song recommendations. While I conducted qualitative interviews and a survey to learn more about what students were listening to and why, I couldn’t share all of the individual results as part of my report. Though my research technically concluded with Undergraduate Research Day in the fall of 2021, I’ve continued to think about students’ connections to music and further questions that could be explored. This column is another means of fostering dialogue around music across the student population because it allows us to find new songs and share common ones with each other.

What we listen to can be very personal to us. Listening to music with headphones can be a time to reflect and disconnect from the world — something not always for sharing. Additionally, people have numerous reasons for listening to music: while driving or riding in the car, during household tasks, while working, studying, getting ready for the day and while being creative, to name a few. There are several emotions associated with listening to music as well, including anger, joy, stress, need for motivation and the desire to move/dance. We all have our own connections and memories associated with our music. What purpose does music serve for you? What can it do for others? Should you listen to an artist’s music if you don’t agree with them? Music, to me, is an ever-evolving expression and exploration of the human experience. I invite you to reflect on your connections to music and to share your thoughts with us as we continue to explore what WFU students are listening to.

Thank you to everyone who shared their music with me. Stay tuned for the next volume.

Tune in to Sundays with Leanna at 8:00 p.m. on Wake Radio to hear some songs from this column.