collegial connections

reflections and musings from the School of Education at Mills College

Hip Hop & My Mills Experience | Nolan Jones

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Nolan Jones
Educational Leadership Doctoral Candidate

When I enrolled in my first course at Mills College, I had no idea that it would be a course that explored the intersections of Hip Hop, higher education, and first generation college student narratives. Secretly, I was excited about the course because it had the words Hip Hop in the title, but I dare not tell my family and friends that it was my first doctoral course. Why? I had no idea how to articulate Hip Hop’s relevance in education, and I knew some people had skewed perceptions of Hip Hop as that rap music that only promotes violence, misogyny, and conspicuous consumption. For the uncritical consumer of popular culture, this is a logical conclusion. After all, these images are in regular rotation on the radio and in the videos, but my experiences at Mills College provided me with a more critical look at Hip Hop in its proper context.

Is Hip Hop rap music? 

Hip Hop is more than rap music, and superficial sensationalism. Rap music is one element of Hip Hop, an artistic culture created by African American and Latino youth in the 1970s as a creative outlet to cope with oppressive socioeconomic conditions in the South Bronx of New York. Other elements of Hip Hop include graffiti art, break dancing, and deejaying  (Chang, 2005). Later, Hip Hop evolved and became an essential part of American popular culture with a burgeoning international community in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Central and South America.

Does rap promote violence and misogyny? 

No. Large profit driven corporations such as Clear Channel, “MTV, Viacom, AOL, Time Warner, cocaine, and Hennessey” promote and distribute media that perpetuate these messages (Asante, 2008, p.102). Yes, some rappers have written and perform songs that perpetuate monolithic stereotypical images of African Americans even though they do not believe nor live them in real life. However, many rappers have written songs about love, education, family, resilience, and social justice. But those songs rarely get commercial airplay because of the perceived lack of profit potential, corporations desire to reinforce negative stereotypes, or the lack of danceable beats behind the lyrics of well-intentioned rap artists who some times occur as preachy and self-righteous.

Hip Hop Enrichment Opportunities at Mills

Mills College reintroduced me to Hip Hop in an academic setting. I had always been a fan of Hip Hop, but I wasn’t sure how to share my Hip Hop passion in the workplace or in higher education. Then I heard one of the guest speakers in my first Mills course refer to herself as a Hip Hop administrator. I was shocked. What she said resonated with profound authenticity. Her words described my work experience in so many ways: using Hip Hop sensibilities in educational leadership. Since that first class, I have attended two annual Hip Hop conferences, hired an instructor to teach English using Hip Hop pedagogy, and presented six workshops on using Hip Hop in the classroom. As a fan of Hip Hop, I was happy to know that this community was alive and thriving at Mills.

In addition to my Hip Hop immersion at Mills, I enhanced my intellectual and academic bandwidth by getting involved. I not only attended special events featuring contemporary scholars such as Jeff Duncan-Andrade and Gloria Ladson Billings, I also attended readings and performances by my peers, organized a dissertation writing group for doctoral students, and performed at the Mills East Bay Boogie Café, an end of the year showcase of music, dance, and spoken word performed by students from Mills and the Oakland community. Each of these events enriched my graduate experience and provided me with a strong sense of belonging.

The old biblical adage, “seek and ye shall find,” could not be truer at Mills. I was seeking an opportunity to develop my speaking, teaching and presentation skills, and during the first two years I was given multiple opportunities to do so. During the first year, I was invited to present a workshop on Hip Hop and Higher Education with one of my professors and two peers at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE). During my second year, I was invited to teach a course, sit on an administrative search committee, present on several student panels, and facilitate a Hip Hop pedagogy workshop at NCORE the following year. Each of these experiences affirmed my Hip Hop educational leadership and my pedagogical voice. But Mills provided the constructivist education that valued this voice.


Asante, M.K. Jr. (2008). It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post- Hip Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Chang, J. (2005). Can’t stop, won’t stop: a history of the hip-hop generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Written by collegialconnections

October 8, 2012 at 11:02 am

2 Responses

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  1. Congrats Nolan!


    October 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm

  2. Dr. Nolan,

    After reading this narrative about your experience with hip-hop education, I quite curious about a couple of things and was wondering if I might ask you a few questions.

    I am a recent Mills College graduate and am quite intrigued by the way you speak of the institution in conjunction with hip-hop culture. If you have 5 minutes at all this summer, and are in the Oakland area, I would like to buy a cup of coffee/tea and ask you a couple of quick questions.

    Please, let me know if this would be possible.



    O. Stevens

    May 22, 2014 at 1:25 pm

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