Who's Playin' Whom? Overwhelming Influence of Hip-Hop Culture, Rap Music on HBCU Campuses Concerns Students, Faculty
Stewart, Pearl, Black Issues in Higher Education
In December 2000, Dr. Thomas Earl Midgette had harsh words for the hip-hop movement that was sweeping his campus. When he was interviewed for an article in Black Issues titled "The Miseducation of Hip-Hop," Midgette didn't hold back: "You see students walking on campus reciting rap lyrics when they should be reciting something they'll need to know on their next test. These rap artists influence the way they dress. They look like hoochie mamas, not like they're coming to class. (And) young men with pants fashioned below their navel."
At that time Midgette was director of the Institute for the Study of Minority Issues at North Carolina Central University. Today he is a professor of humanities and social sciences at another historically Black institution, Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. He has a much milder assessment today. Midgette says the Methodist-ran school enforces a dress code and emphasizes cultural awareness. Two years ago he established a weekly "Africana Day" on Wednesdays where students, faculty and administrators are encouraged to wear African attire and to participate in discussions about heritage and culture.
Midgette says students who violate the dress code generally "are chastised and asked to leave the classroom." Do-rags, midriff-revealing tank tops and boxer-baring baggy pants are against the code. And Standard English is required in classes.
Meanwhile back at his old campus, the publicly funded North Carolina Central, the hip-hop culture is alive and burgeoning to the point that adjunct sociology professor Michelle Laws organized a symposium last month titled "Sex, Lies and Rap Music: The Message Behind the Hype--Am I Being Played?"
The event was the outgrowth of a class discussion about the influence of rap music on the culture. "It prompted such rich discussion that we couldn't adequately address all the issues in class," Laws said, adding that the most provocative topics were the depiction of women in music videos, rap's influence on Black male and female relationships, and misogyny.
The two-hour forum was billed as an "opportunity for students and faculty to engage in open dialogue about the impact and influence of rap music and for students to voice their opinions about the meaning, value and influence of rap music on their lives." A panel of students, faculty and a local DJ weighed in during the program that was extended an additional 30 minutes, and was attended by nearly 200 people.
Laws said the outcome was encouraging. "The students demanded another session. And there seemed to be a consensus that this very powerful musical form needs to be used to address issues of the day--for political influence--after all, rap is the musical form of hip-hop, which started as a political tool."
The portrayal of women, most of them African American, as sex objects in rap videos continues to be one of the most contentious aspects of the industry. Earlier this month the controversy erupted at Spelman, a prominent historically Black women's college in Atlanta. According to the Associated Press, Nelly, one of the top-selling hip-hop artists to hit the charts, was scheduled to appear on Spelman's campus to promote a bone-marrow donation drive sponsored by his foundation. Several students, including men from neighboring Morehouse College, threatened to demonstrate, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Zenobia Hikes.
"Spelman is concerned about the negative images of women in popular culture," Hikes explained, "particularly the misogynistic lyrics and images that constantly portray women in a sexual nature." Nelly and his foundation ended up canceling the event, Hikes said, when they learned that the students planned to raise these issues.
In addition to the stereotypical female images, the overall "obsession with pettiness" and lack of interest in politics exhibited by fellow students trouble Southern University senior Gabrielle Maple. …