How does hip-hop shape the cultural and political landscape of millennials? That is one question amongst many that Dr. Bettina Love seeks to answer next year as she conducts research at Harvard University on civic engagement and hip-hop.
In 2013 Harvard University and the Hiphop Archive established the Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship. The announcement of the fellowship made national and international news headlines. The first cohort has been selected and is set to begin work on their hip-hop related projects during the 2015-2016 academic year. One of the Nas Fellows, Dr. Bettina Love, will be working on a project titled, Get Free: Hip Hop Civics Education. However the marriage between hip-hop and education continues to be a point of contention for those both inside and outside of academe.
When the University of Arizona created a hip-hop minor in 2013 the “controversy” received press from the likes of BBC World news, The Huffington Post and found itself on the receiving end of jokes from public figures such as Stephen Colbert of Comedy Centrals’, The Colbert Report. Colbert weighed in via Twitter stating, “The University of Arizona is offering a Minor in Hip-Hop. And if you go on to grad school, you can get your Doctorate in Dre,” he tweeted, invoking famed rapper-producer Dr. Dre. Age-old debates continue to persist about the legitimacy of hip-hop in the classroom.
Some educators feel that including hip-hop in the classroom dilutes the academic vigor of an institution. Artist KRS ONE has been vocal about his concerns with scholars teaching hip-hop in the classroom. At the same time, millennials have grown up with loud opposition to the humanities and a liberal arts education due to low employment rates and high student loan debt, particularly during the Great Recession. In a 2010 article that was less than optimistic about the future of the humanities within American higher education, Dr. Frank Donoghue wrote, “When we claim to wonder whether the humanities will survive the twenty first century, we’re really asking, ‘Will the humanities have a place in the standard higher-education curriculum in the United States?'” Yet, hip-hop continues to permeate higher education. Since the early 1990s, colleges have offered hundreds of classes on hip-hop and all major universities now offer at least one course including hip-hop, largely under the umbrella of the humanities.
As the population of high school graduates moves towards a majority of students of color, the inclusion of the cultural and artistic phenomenon of hip-hop, an art form birthed out of the Bronx, NY by African-American youth, is essential.
The impetus of Dr. Bettina Love’s fellowship project, Get Free: Hip Hop Civics Education, is to nurture the ways in which students intellectually connect with the art form but also to create a space within the humanities where diverse solutions to today’s problems can be addressed. This speaks to the ways in which hip-hop and by extension, the humanities, will have a permanent place in higher-education curriculum in the United States. According to Dr. Bettina Love, “centering Hip Hop in the classroom exposes students to the ingenuity, genius, and creativity of urban youth past and present. When Hip Hop scholars place Hip Hop in the context of higher education, the robustness of Hip Hop culture allows us to have complex class discussions about the contemporary everyday realities of urban youth who endure the social, economic, physiological, and psychological trauma of coping with the racial injustices of ‘post-racial’ America.”
As millennials architect the Civil Rights Movement of our time to destroy systemic racism, police brutality, economic disenfranchisement, failing public schools in urban areas and White supremacy, hip hop can be accredited as the blue print of the movement. Hip hop is one of the premier pedagogies for self-determination and resistance – particularly at this moment in time when high levels of state violence and domestic terrorism towards people of color has birthed the banner axiom that Black Lives Matter, according to Nas Fellow Dr. Bettina Love.
Dr. love will begin her fellowship work in January of 2016 on campus at Harvard University, at which time she will work on creating a curriculum that teaches students how to use the fifth element of Hip-hop – Knowledge of Self and Community – to help create counter-narratives that reflect students’ current social and cultural identities, while imagining new possibilities for justice.
For Dr. Love, a professor at the University of Georgia, the recent police killings of unarmed Black men and the subsequent failure to indict police officers in these cases has shown us that urban youth are users of multi-modal platforms in which they have created hashtags like #ICantBreathe (referring to Garner’s documented last words), #HandsUpDontShoot (in reference to Brown’s alleged last action), and #BlackLivesMatter in order to bring the pain and realities of Black people to the forefront of public conversation. Dr. Love states, “these highly visible platforms for discussing such issues highlight the need for informal and formal educational spaces for youth to learn, discuss, vent, heal, resist, and escape – if not only in their minds – from the stress and fatigue of subtle and overt racial hostility toward Black and Brown bodies. Thus, it is equally important for educators to establish curricula that teach urban youth how to create sustainable change through local and community engagement, rooted in the culture and fearless voice of urban America”.
As higher education continues to embrace hip-hop despite the controversy surrounding its inclusion, scholars like Dr. Love remind us that courses within the humanities that connect current sociopolitical concerns juxtaposed with the need to educate an increasingly diverse student population is key to the future of higher education.