The Hip-Hop Experience

This guest blog was written by Grace Taylor, a second year student in the Master of Science in Higher Education Program at Florida International University. Ms. Taylor attended AAC&U’s Network for Academic Renewal Conference, Student Success and the Quality Agenda, held April 4–6, 2013 in Miami, Florida, and blogged about her experience.

This blog post is a reflection of her experience attending the plenary presentation, “An Anti-Deficit Approach to Equity, Excellence, and Student Success,” delivered by Shaun Harper, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

As I stepped into the main ballroom for the plenary sessions of AAC&U’s Student Success conference, I did not know what to expect. I had never been to such a large conference, so I felt slightly overwhelmed with the hundreds of people in attendance. I found a seat with a group of female professionals from various institutions.

The featured presenter for the plenary session, “An Anti-Deficit Approach to Equity, Excellence, and Student Success,” was Shaun Harper, from the University of Pennsylvania. As a master’s student in higher education, I was especially interested because we use Harper’s textbook in one of my classes. Once Harper began his presentation, I understood why the room was so excited to hear him speak. He decided to step away from the traditional presentation and his originally advertised topic and do something completely different and dynamic. He explained how his iTunes music collection can be tied to his work with students in higher education and titled his presentation “Metaphorical Musing on Race, Equity, and Student Success in Higher Education.” Harper was standing at a podium in between two large screens which displayed album cover art and song lyrics for each song that he featured in the presentation.  The music he cited consisted mostly of hip hop and R&B artists. Some featured songs were Ne-Yo’s “Lie to me,” Drake’s “Successful,” Kanye West’s “College Dropout,” and Jay Z’s “Off That.”

Although it may have seemed unusual to some that Harper chose to reference hip hop music with higher education and student success, I found the lyrics to be fitting in the context of many issues minority students face on campuses. Harper emphasized the need for institutions to act on the promises they make to students, whether through mission statements or through campus websites that promote “inclusiveness.” Through his “metaphorical musing,” Harper explained the many inequities he has seen and researched at different colleges and universities. He gave an example of an institution where the only office where minority students felt they belonged on campus was the Multicultural Affairs Office. When Harper visited this office, he was shocked at its poor condition and was surprised that the office employed “two and a half” staff members. He also emphasized that in his experience working with minority students, one of the main things they desire is to be respected and successful.

These lessons resonated with me because the ideas of respect and inclusiveness should be second nature to student affairs professionals, students, faculty, and people in general. Harper pointed out that students of color do not want to be treated differently, but to be treated and acknowledged the same as their non-minority peers. Another point that resonated with me was the idea that there cannot be equity without transparency. If those of us in higher education do not openly acknowledge that we have low minority enrollments or lack programming to promote inclusiveness, then how can we make sincere assessments and move toward improvement?

As a Hispanic student at a Hispanic-Serving Institution, I am part of a minority group that is actually the majority group on my campus. I feel as though I live in a protective bubble and I am not treated like a minority—I feel completely welcome and part of the campus community. However, after researching higher education and listening to Harper’s speech, I wonder how African American or white students must feel at an institution where students, faculty, and staff often speak to each other in Spanish or gravitate toward fellow Hispanics? At the same time, my university also has our student profile listed in detail on our website and our president has established a taskforce to assist black male students’ success. I believe our institution is making an effort to be transparent, though we are definitely far from being all-inclusive. Using my institution as an example and keeping Harper’s lecture in mind, it is important for campus educators to create programs and assist their particular minority populations (whether black students, white students, Hispanic Students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, or others) with respect and acknowledgement for their success.

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