Black College-Radio on Predominantly White Campuses: A 'Hip-Hop Era' Student-Authored Inclusion Initiative

By Harrison, Anthony Kwame | Journal of Pan African Studies, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Black College-Radio on Predominantly White Campuses: A 'Hip-Hop Era' Student-Authored Inclusion Initiative


Harrison, Anthony Kwame, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction (1)

The Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s opened the door for Black students to attend Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) in greater numbers. Thus began a fifty-year struggle to gain equitable representation on historically white campuses, as well as to achieve the academic and overall success that matriculation in these institutions was thought to bring about. Despite the fact that in 2013 Black students made up fourteen percent of the student population of four-year career-granting colleges and universities--up from eleven percent in 1994 (McGill, 2015)--a significant gap between Black and White graduation rates persists (Casselman, 2014). In addition, recent events like the 2015 University of Missouri protests and Black Lives Matter movement on college campuses strongly suggest that, from the perspective of many Black students, most PWIs maintain unwelcoming campus climates.

In this article, I advocate for the importance of Black-music-oriented spaces at PWIs. To do this, I focus on a specific, yet largely overlooked, historical example: the case of Black-music-oriented college-radio programing--hereafter referred to as 'Black college-radio' (2) --on predominantly white campuses during a period that I call 'college radio's hip-hop era' (circa 1980 to 1993). I maintain that, during these pivotal years, Black college-radio functioned as a student-authored diversity initiative. This historical example, I argue, should be looked at as a model for considering how the promotion of Black-music-oriented spaces on campus can play a central role in fostering Black student engagement, satisfaction, and ultimately success.

In the following pages, I lay out three key discussions that, together, support this position. First, I discuss the significance of Black college-radio programing, most notably hip-hop programing, in the history of college radio. Second, I highlight the period that I refer to as 'college radio's hip-hop era' as a particularly tumultuous time for Black students on predominantly white college campuses. Third, I show how Black college-radio both cultivated and sustained a sense of belonging for Black students at PWIs, which, I maintain, helped to facilitate their satisfaction and success--albeit in ways that are difficult to measure. I conclude by arguing that, despite the waning significance of college radio in the lives of students today, this historical example can animate new ways of addressing current inclusion and diversity challenges by underscoring the value of Black-music-oriented spaces in creating robust Black campus communities.

College Radio and Hip Hop

For over a century the Black intellectual tradition in America has been propelled by the goal of social transformation through scholar activism. Yet, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when many Black Studies programs were first established, their articulated agendas were as much corrective as they were transformative. Standard American education had largely ignored the experiences and contributions of Black people; when they were presented it was through a frameworks of social pathology. Speaking in 1969, anthropologist St. Clair Drake asserted:

The very use of the term Black Studies is by implication an indictment of America and Western European scholarship. It makes the bold assertion that what we have heretofore called "objective" intellectual activities were actually white studies in perspective and content; and that a corrective bias, a shift in emphasis, is needed, even if something called "truth" is set as the goal. (cited in Marable, 2000, p. 21)

This demand for recognition in the face of Eurocentric standards of education led many early Black Studies programs to prioritize cultural topics like literature, art, and history ahead of the social sciences. Scholars working in Black Studies today, continue to identify and 'call out' spaces and fields where Black experiences have gone unnoticed or ignored. …

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