Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Curricular Transformation
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Diversity and Learning Resources

Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom

By Simona J. Hill, associate professor of sociology and codirector of University Honors, and Dave Ramsaran, associate professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, both at Susquehanna University

Students dance to the rap/hip-hop sounds of the Collective at

Students dance to the rap/hip-hop sounds of the Collective at Susquehanna University’s student social club, TRAX.

There exists that “Every Student” on a college campus, in a high school, at the mall, who characteristically parades youth trends with ease, casually uses up-to-date slang, pops hip fashions and accessories, and mixes the hottest music. Whether a trumpeting trendsetter or an Old Skool afficionado, he or she represents what is important at the moment to our ever-changing youth culture. A few years ago, we spotted that “Every Student” on our campus wearing the now-classic “B-boy” look—baggy denim jeans slung far below his buttocks, athletic gear, and brand-name boots, along with the requisite tattoos and moderately iced-out jewelry: a platinum (or platinum-like) neck chain and diamond (or brilliant cut cubic zirconium) stud earrings. Had he arrived at a club in any Urban City, USA, he would have blended in seamlessly.

Our “Every Student,” our “homeboy” from “around the way,” however, was white. He grew up in a predominantly white environment and rarely had any contact with a person of color before coming to our private, liberal arts university. He sat in our classes, pondered his selection of a major, and strolled the campus with an invisible (or at least, unheard by us) rhythmic beat, emitting a mass-marketed urban vibe with his essentially store-bought bravado. As two sociologists in his environment, we were intrigued by “Every Student’s” modus operandi and we wanted to know what motivated him to so thoroughly adopt an increasingly made-for-MTV, black youth persona. The vehicle we used to explore this phenomenon was the hip-hop music of “Every Student.” As one “Every Student” said to us: “Growing up where I did in [upstate] New York, I would hear DMX rapping about places like . . . where I’ve been and I think that’s what also attracted me to rap music. . . . I have friends whose favorite music isn’t rap, but they say they like it because it’s something that is different. Rap has a different sound than other music.”

The difference (which our student speaks of with the spirit of an adventurer) is seductive, and understanding what that difference means to our students is a complex and compelling undertaking. For these white students, rap music provides instant and easy access to black urban culture; it serves as something like “cultural fast food” for students who are either economically privileged or geographically (and many times, racially) isolated from personal, meaningful exchange with a falsely presumed “exotic” and often socially marginalized “other.” This “other,” while remaining at a safe distance, is nevertheless only a digital media click away. How did rap and hip-hop, which were born out of the experiences of black urban youths trying to “fight the power,” become cultural currency to white suburban youths—and more importantly, how did they become central to certain aspects of contemporary capitalism? To answer these questions we must explore several issues: the changing nature of contemporary capitalism and globalization; the process by which a subculture becomes part of the dominant culture/ideology; the instruments available to dominant elites to perpetuate the dominant culture/ideology; and the dynamics of inequality, a central feature of capitalist accumulation.

In order to explore the art of hip-hop, then, we must necessarily inquire into systems of diversity and globalism; in this inquiry our students’ love of the genre becomes a pathway to learning. The pedagogy of hip-hop assumes several perspectives acting simultaneously in a classroom environment, as hip-hop is a cultural art form that sets as its standard the “crunked” (i.e., crazily energized and heady) currency of global existence. Hip-hop and rap, looked at in a systematic way, allow us to lead our students along a path, not of least resistance, but certainly of guided opportunity to discuss race, class, and gender in both obvious and latent terms. Teaching hip-hop does not demand expert knowledge of rap and hip-hop superstars. We do not require that our students master all aspects of the hip-hop canon; instead, we teach our students how to assemble cultural data to analyze critically what has become for them a viable part of their everyday existence. Our classroom goals are threefold: (1) to explore an art form in popular culture; (2) to follow its movement from its subculture roots to its expressions in dominant culture; and (3) to examine the role one dimension of culture plays in reinforcing the hegemonic ideology, thus justifying the social stratification scheme.

Teaching about issues of power and inequality presents some notable challenges. Just as there is no single multicultural pedagogical mechanism that is sufficient in helping teachers meet the challenges of working with culturally diverse students (Gomez 1994), there is no one method to help white students understand the extent of their privilege. In the classroom, we must be culturally responsive practitioners who address these variable dynamics and allow students to affirm their cultural identities in a positive manner. We wholly agree with Gregory Jay (1995), who advocates a “pedagogy of disorientation” in which the “exploration of otherness and cultural identity should achieve a sense of my own strangeness, my own otherness, and of the history of how my assumed mode of being came into being historically” (125). To this end, students are exposed to the art of “Listening with the Third Ear” (Hill and Ramsaran 2006), and learn to apply this technique to contemporary music as part of oral tradition. Listening with “the third ear” requires critical examination of the underpinnings of contemporary culture and its roots in social stratification. Students learn to analyze both the manifest and latent meanings of any form of communication, and to understand the role of such communication in systems of power.

Moving toward a contemporary pedagogy, then, we engage our students in an explicit understanding of how their own power (as consumers in a youth-driven market) affects global industries. We aim to facilitate their understanding of how power works and how critical independent variables such as race, class, and gender are important to deconstructing the varied meanings of hip-hop culture. In the twenty-first-century classroom, we have found that a critical analysis of a subject that appeals to “Every Student” opens inquiry into topics that affect everyone.


Gomez, M. L. 1994. Teacher education reform and prospective teachers’ perspectives on teaching “other people’s” children. Teaching & Teacher Education 10 (30): 319–34.

Hill, S. J., and D. Ramsaran. 2006. Listening with the third ear: An exercise in demystifying hip hop culture, power and pedagogy. In Critical pedagogy in the classroom, 2nd edition, ed. P. Kaufman, 153–57. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.

Jay, G. 1995. Taking multiculturalism personally. In Pedagogy: The question of impersonation, ed. J. Gallop, 117–28. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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