Access, Resources, and Hip-Hop: A Story of Education

Below is the twelfth in a series of posts by participants in the Winter 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Kashema Hutchinson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Urban Education program. She is also a Co-Director of the CUNY Peer Leaders Program. Kashema creates and uses Hip Hop infographics to facilitate discussions in traditional and non-traditional educational spaces. She is also a Co-Director of the Universal Hip Hop Museum’s Education Committee. In addition, Kashema is also an adjunct lecturer and teaches critical thinking to undergraduate and early college students.

Access. Resources. As a human, more specifically an educator, these two terms are imperative for equitable survival. Whether it’s food, shelter, healthcare or education, there is an underpinning of access and resources, or lack thereof, in conversations. As always, we can go to the root of deprivation and disparities by examining the various manifestations of settler colonialism. However, it’s 2021, what are we doing to make a difference?

As a student who has attended academic institutions that were adequately as well as under-served, I know the difference and can speak to it in various ways. As an educator, my responsibility is to provide an education that allows my students to think critically about themselves and the world they live in. I also strive to do and be better for myself and my students. After learning about the OER Fellowship, I applied to learn to find more equitable ways to teach.

For context, I use Hip-Hop elements when teaching, especially the fifth element, knowledge of self and community. Sometimes it’s explicit, like when my students do “Critical Karaoke” based on social justice issues. It’s implicit when I have them critique social justice issue posters. For one of the “Quotes of the Day,” I use the image below and ask them to tell me what they see:

Mujeres Creando, La Paz, Bolivia. “Neither the land nor women are territories of conquest” (2017).

This is usually followed with a series of questions to go below the surface such as:

  1. When do you think it was written?
  2. Why do you think it was written?
  3. Who or what is it drawing attention to?
  4. How do you think it is received?
  5. What about the woman who is in the shot?

Although some of my students are high schoolers, I don’t hesitate to include theoretical frameworks that are taught in higher education. We discuss patriarchy, colonialism, slavery, and relate it to current field work, gentrification. I also introduce the term biopolitics, the separation of land and people for capitalism (la paperson, 2017). la paperson’s A Third University is Possible (2017) that highlights this term biopolitics is on Manifold, an open-source platform for scholarly publishing.

Picking cotton, from the Digital Collections at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Then I do what Ola (2019) calls “unobtrusive sprinkling,” where marginalized facts relating are mentioned to add another layer of context. Because “Ni la tierra ni las mujeres somos terrritorio de conquista” was written in graffiti, it allows me to discuss how a core element of Hip-Hop was used to center marginalized voices as well call out injustices that impacted their community. I relate how graffiti disrupts what the land is supposed to “look like” to get others’ attention and relate it to the New York City trains in the 1980s. To be transparent, some works were for the masses, some were for the writers who were having conversations with each other while others were bold political statements. Mujeres Creando writing style is in cursive, and their messages are always about the resistance. I relate these women to legendary graffiti artist Lady Pink (nee Sandra Fabara), who took up space (trains, more specifically) and didn’t let anyone tell her how or what she should write in the early days of Hip-Hop, which was (and still is) predominately male.

Lisa Kahane, Lady Pink photographed in Times Square (1983), wearing a t-shirt from Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms” (1978–87). Photo ©1983, Lisa Kahane.

“The Moral Dimensions of Open” (Ansolabehere, Ball, Devare, Guidotti, Priedhorsky, van der Stelt, Taylor, Veldsman and Willinsky, 2016) highlights the exclusionary practices of knowledge production and dissemination (gatekeeping) in academia but also how open educational resources allow for more inclusion for the greater good. Hip-Hop culture changed the definition of what art is. Works of lesser-known artists were highlighted by making access and resources (gallery exhibits, funding and notoriety) available to the young, marginalized creatives of New York City. Andy Warhol and Lady Pink rubbed shoulders because the art world became (just a little bit more) inclusive. The value of the Hip-Hop creative’s work increased because of its popularity, like a Hip-Hop DJ’s third generation mixtape which was dubbed and passed along from listener to listener (Cassette, 2016). Ansolabehere et al. (2016) also address the ethics and funding of open access. Hip-Hop’s fifth element was introduced because Hip-Hop was losing its way regarding ethics and funding. “Keeping it real,” or being transparent, and respect are moral codes. Moreover, how money was handled and viewed was imperative to the core of the culture, because without the accountability piece, it got watered down.

Because of this fellowship, I have and will continue to reframe the resources and access which will allow for more fertile critiques in my classrooms. I want my students to walk away equipped with knowledge that they apply not just in education, but in their personal and professional lives.

Works Cited

Ansolabehere, K., Ball, C., Devare, M., Guidotti, T., Priedhorsky, B., Van, . S. W., Taylor, M., … Willinsky, J. (April 19, 2016). The Moral Dimensions of Open. Open Scholarship Initiative Proceedings, 1.

 La paperson. (2017). A Third University Is Possible.

Ola, O. (2019). Promoting Cultural and Gender Diversity in a Computing Course. A 15-minute Talk by Oluwakemi Ola (University of British Columbia)

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. Picking cotton. Retrieved from

Serna, C. (April 19, 2017). “Public Poetry: Mujeres Creando’s Graffiti.” Mujeres creando y mujeres creando comunidad. Retrieved from

Taylor, Z., Ottens, L., Rollins, H., Sheffield, R., Jurado, D., & Gravitas Ventures (Firm),. (2018). Cassette: A documentary mixtape.

About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.