Thom Shanker (from left), Serj Tankian, and Graham Nash discuss the potential of rock music to promote social change with Ohio Wesleyan professor Sean Kay. Watch the panel discussion on OWU’s YouTube channel.

Rock and Roll – and Social Change

Ohio Wesleyan Professor Hosts Discussion with NYT Journalist, Award-Winning Musicians

By Cole Hatcher

DELAWARE, Ohio – Rock legend Graham Nash likens music with a message to stones thrown into a pond.

Artists send out ripples of social change, says the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, “and sooner or later, those waves will start to come and affect you. That’s what music is, that’s what music does.”

Now available on Ohio Wesleyan University’s YouTube channel, OWU professor Sean Kay hosts a panel discussion with Nash and with Thom Shanker, assistant Washington editor of The New York Times, and Serj Tankian, lead singer of the heavy metal band System of a Down.

The group discussed “Rock and Roll and Social Change” during an hourlong discussion recorded Sept. 24.

“It was a great thrill to bring together Graham Nash and Serj Tankian, two very different rock artists who converge on the issue of music and social activism,” said Kay, Ph.D., an Ohio Wesleyan professor of Politics and Government and author of the book “Rockin’ the Free World! How the Rock and Roll Revolution Changed America and the World.”

“And it was especially great to hear from Thom Shanker of The New York Times regarding how these artists' work influenced major change at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, over modern environmental issues, and during the post-9/11 and Iraq wars,” Kay said. “These engaged artists and journalist provided unique insight in this discussion of the important issues of justice and freedom, democracy, and human rights, applying them to issues of the current election and Black Lives Matter.

“Taking us on a journey through the early days of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash, combined with the activism and roles of System of a Down, Graham Nash and Serj Tankian offered this unique discussion an inside view of how artists work with intent and context to advance positive change in the world,” he said.

Watch the panel discussion on Ohio Wesleyan’s YouTube channel at Please note the discussion includes explicit language.

Learn more about OWU’s Department of Politics and Government and its International Studies Program at and

Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 90 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through Ohio Wesleyan’s signature OWU Connection program, students integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply their knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at