Holy Cross Hosts Hip-Hop Symposium for Local High School Students

Students enrolled in Blues to Rap course explore impact and importance of hip-hop music and culture

A group of Worcester high school students spent a day recently with Holy Cross faculty and students to talk about authenticity and commercialization related to something very close to their hearts: hip-hop music.

In the process, they also learned more about their own opportunities for college.

During the full day event, about 40 students from Worcester’s North High and South High schools engaged in conversations led by Holy Cross students enrolled in one of the music department’s newest courses, African-American Music: From Blues to Rap.

The symposium was a collaborative effort by Margaret A. Post, director of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, and Daniel DiCenso, visiting instructor of music. Their primary goals were to showcase the importance of hip-hop music and to help high school students learn about access to colleges, including Holy Cross. With the help of Julianna Stuart ’10, a religious studies major with a Peace and Conflict Studies concentration, and Lauren Buckley ’09, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, the two came up with a format that would work within the context of the Blues to Rap course, and then reached out to Worcester high school students.

The symposium began with a keynote address given by Mohamed Adam ’11, a psychology major with an Asian Studies concentration. Engaging the audience by asking “Is hip-hop dead?” Adam gave a brief history of hip-hop culture. He created an environment where dancing, singing and laughing were encouraged while demonstrating the importance of discussing these issues in academia. Adam, who was raised in Worcester and attended high school in the city, noted that he felt “a sense of responsibility” in addressing the students from his hometown.

“It is great to see both North and South [high schools] interacting together,” he said. “I’m glad we have a course on hip-hop here at Holy Cross and I’m glad we can bring these students into the conversation.”

The high school students were assigned to groups, and then participated in discussion topics, created and run by the students in the Blues to Rap course. The session topics were titled:

• “Putting it on the map: How does regional rap affect hip-hop?” • “Squeaky clean: The return of Willenium?” • “Money in the bank: Has hip-hop sold out?” • “Who has the right to rip?” • “Does hip-hop still take talent?”

Lance Jeune ’11, a group leader on the discussion of “clean” hip-hop, was surprised by and appreciated the unique perspectives the younger generation of students had to offer.

“The kids had a lot to say,” said Jeune. “It was interesting to hear their positive opinions on styles of rap we thought they wouldn’t like at all.”

DiCenso also noted a positive and beneficial conversation between the generations, lending the ease of interaction to the topic at hand.

“Hip-hop is a perfect example the kind of work that runs seamlessly between the high school and college level,” DiCenso noted. “I think we all benefit from the exchange and that the high school students go back to school newly confident about their ability to participate in college age work.”

After each group completed their rotations, the students were treated to a tour of campus, lunch and a reflection on their time at Holy Cross. By the end of the day, conversations flowed more easily and a bond had been formed among students who had previously cheered and boasted of the separation between the two high schools. When asked by a chaperone which school one group of students was from, one boy responded, “We are North and South High School. We are reuniting.”

Commenting on the symposium, DiCenso said: “Hip-hop music is important music. Period. By taking hip-hop seriously, we take seriously all people who find their voice and their experience represented by this special art form.”

By Mary Moczula ’11 Pictured: Mohamed Adam ’11 delivers a keynote address titled “Is hip-hop dead?” before 40 students from Worcester’s North High and South High schools.

April 23, 2010|nm