Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Patrick W. Berry

Second Advisor

Gwendolyn D. Pough


Antiracism, Autoethnography, Composition, Hiphop, Whiteness, Women's Studies

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation asks what hiphop is doing in predominantly white higher-educational contexts, specifically in composition classrooms. Using ethnographic, autoethnographic, and historical methods, it finds that hiphop’s work in composition classrooms at PWIs is contradictory. This mixed-methods investigation suggests that the contradictory relation of white fans, students, and institutions to hiphop is shaped on the one hand by white listeners’ increasing identification with the historical struggles of African Americans under capitalism, and on the other hand, by disidentification or abjectification of African Americans in an effort to “win” the zero-sum game of capitalism. This contradiction results in a paradoxical situation where white fans—and white institutions—love hiphop and yet harbor antiblack views about the Black communities and Black students who make hiphop possible. However, the findings also suggest that identifying this tension offers writing instructors an opportunity to be more explicit about working towards anti-racist goals in the hiphop composition classroom. The dissertation’s historical study, ethnographic and autoethnographic studies, and review of contemporary hiphop and composition scholarship suggest that teaching and practicing reflexivity are core solutions to the paradoxical rhetorical action of hiphop in predominantly white spaces. This entails teaching students to reflectively identify and write about their own positionalities as well as asking teachers and administrators to recognize and explicitly acknowledge their own positionalities.

The first chapter introduces the problematic of hiphop’s significant presence in elite PWIs despite hiphop’s emergence as a revolutionary Black art form in 1970s New York and the contemporary mass closure of public educational institutions for Black and poor students in the United States. It argues that, given the widespread uptake of Black language and discourse practices by millennials and youth, all composition classes should teach Black language and discourse practices, including at PWIs. Chapter 2 positions critical reflexivity as the central methodological value of this mixed-methods research study, contextualizing the white female author’s relationship with hiphop and the development of her research within research and writing on whiteness in hiphop culture and hiphop pedagogy. Chapter 3, a historical study of the Open Admissions movement at the City University of New York, recontextualizes early hiphop culture within the creative production of Black and Puerto Rican youths’ artistic and educational movements of late 1960s and 1970s New York City, arguing for a reconsideration of the role that creative writing teachers of color and cultural rhetorics education broadly defined played both in the successes of Basic Writing under CUNY Open Admissions and the early history of hiphop.

Chapter 4 offers hiphop as a critical intervention to the Writing About Writing movement, arguing that the movement’s prioritization of institutional writing practices over students’ extracurricular and power-saturated language practices constitutes linguistic innocence. A classroom study of 4 hiphop composition classrooms demonstrates the pervasive antiblackness of students’ attitudes about language and advocates a reflexive, literacy-focused hiphop composition pedagogy to teach students a socially conscious understanding of the major concepts of composition studies. Finally, chapter 5 considers hiphop composition in the context of writing program administration, including issues of labor, disciplinarity, and graduate student teaching, retention, and training. Using dialogue with and materials from Nana Adjei-Brenyah, who taught two of the classes studied in chapter 4, this chapter highlights the role hiphop can play in valuing the diverse language practices and writing expertises of graduate student composition instructors from non-normative identity groups. The dissertation closes with a call for composition instruction that recognizes how whiteness, Blackness, and power circulate through all students’ everyday language and composing practices.


Open Access