Born Brave Experiences

The Born Brave Experiences (BBE) research project is a mixed-methods line of inquiry designed to help understand the factors that support youth empowerment, youth engagement, and to develop effective youth empowerment interventions that will be disseminated through unique outlets (i.e., web-based communities; in-person activations). The objectives of this line of research are to determine the factors that influence youth engagement and to evaluate the impact of participating in four experiences: (1) The Born Brave Bus; (2) Lady Gaga concert events; (3) The Born Brave Nations; and (4) the Born This Way Foundation website (i.e., “Share your story”). We are particularly interested in the factors that youth need to be positively engaged and how empowerment and engagement are sustained over time, ultimately creating a kinder and braver world. 

Data for versions 1.0 and 2.0 were collected in 2013 and 2014 in tandem with the Born Brave Ball and the ARTPOP tour, Lady Gaga’s concert tours. Participants completed online surveys that were accessed through the Foundation’s website. Version 1.0 Surveys were completed by over 3,000 participants and 31 qualitative interviews were conducted in Los Angeles, CA, Lincoln, NE, Kansas City, KS, and New York, NY. Version 2.0 Surveys were completed by over 4,000 participants. Results from the quantitative and qualitative data were used to create the Kinder Braver Scale that is currently being piloted in Year 3 of the Born Brave Experiences Research Study.

2014 Presentations from the Born Brave Experiences Research Study include:

2015 Presentations from the Born Brave Experiences Research Study include:

2016 Presentations from the Born Brave Experiences Research Study include:

2017 Presentations from the Born Brave Experiences Research Study include:

2018 Presentations from the Born Brave Experiences Research Study include:
Principal Investigators:

Dr. Susan Swearer (Professor, School Psychology); Dr. Meredith Martin (Assistant Professor, Cognition, Learning, and Development); Dr. Elliot Tebbe (Assistant Professor, Counseling Psychology); Dr. Michelle Howell Smith (Research Assistant Professor, CYFS); Zach Myers (Doctoral Student, School Psychology); Sara Gonzalez (Doctoral Student, School Psychology); Raul Palacios (Doctoral Student, School Psychology).

Born Brave Bus Tour

Born Brave Bus
Lady Gaga fans gather at the Born Brave Bus prior to a concert from the pop star

In 2012, Empowerment Initiative founder Dr. Susan Swearer agreed to chair the research advisory board of Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, which aims to foster a more accepting society that embraces differences and celebrates individuality.

In January 2013, Swearer joined Lady Gaga as she embarked on the 27-city Born Brave Bus Tour – a series of pre-concert tailgates that offer those aged 13-25 the chance to connect with their peers and obtain information on anti-bullying efforts, suicide prevention and local mental health services.

"It's been an amazing experience. I've seen first-hand that it's been incredibly empowering for the kids, but it's also been quite something for the volunteers involved, as well," said Swearer, who helped kick off the tour Jan. 14 in Tacoma, Wash. "During the stops, so many people came up and talked about how they felt like this was a place where they belonged and felt safe. So it has been really gratifying to see how powerful something simple, like acceptance, can be."

Swearer later traveled with the bus to Portland, Ore., San Jose, Calif., Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo. While in Kansas City, she enlisted the help of UNL school psychology doctoral students Adam Collins and Jenna Strawhun.

"One of the things Dr. Swearer advocates is taking your research and putting it into practice," Collins said. "Here's a unique, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that."

Swearer served as the tour's behavioral health team leader, overseeing one of a series of "pods" stationed in the tailgate area outside each concert venue. At each stop on the tour, attendees perused resources at an LGBT pod, a mentoring section, a "You Media/Hive Pod," a local community resources area and the Swearer-led pod for behavioral health.

The Born Brave Bus Tour continued through March 2013, ending its first leg in New York City's Time Square. The bus headed back on the road from late August through early September, making stops in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. To date, more than 10,000 youth and adults have visited this mobile empowerment lab.

Swearer and her colleagues are now studying how the Born Brave Bus influences youth empowerment and engagement. In conjunction with the tour, the Born This Way Foundation is also launching a national survey to advance understanding of the psychological and social factors that shape youth activism.

Visit the Born This Way Foundation Website

Related Media:
Rolling Stone