Defending Georgetown’s sociology class on Jay-Z

Georgetown’s sociology class on Jay-Z (“SOCI -124-01 or Sociology of Hip-Hop — Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z”) continues to draw attention from a wide variety of sources but one recent report contains a twist: defending the class from those who criticize its relevance.

“This is not a class meant to sit around and go, ‘Oh man, those lyrics were dope,’ Dyson said, who is a Princeton-educated author, syndicated radio host and ordained Baptist minister. “We’re dealing with everything that’s important in a sociology class: race, gender, ethnicity, class, economic inequality, social injustice. . . . His body of work has proved to be powerful, effective and influential. And it’s time to wrestle with it.”

The class has already filled its 80-student enrollment cap the first week of the semester, which forced Dyson to relocate into a larger classroom that can hold 140 students. In the lecture hall scheduled every Monday and Wednesday, students gain insight of rap music’s political impact in a different light. Drawing parallels to other prominent figures such as civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois and the rhymes of rap legend Notorious B.I.G., Dyson’s teachings discusses Jay-Z from his street hustles to ascending to the top, which have sparked many conversations on campus…

Regardless of some disapproval from parents, the 53-year-old is serving as a bridge in which ideas about hip-hop can reach a younger audience. Timonthy Wickham-Crowley, chairman of Georgetown’s sociology department, supports Dyson’s course by arguing that the study of Jay-Z’s work is a valuable tool for sociological examination.

“When [Dyson] comes out of the classroom, he has students in tow and there are these animated, engaged conversations going on,” he said.

It would be interesting to hear more from these parents: do they think that hip-hop is an inappropriate topic for a college class or are there are other concerns? It would be interesting to know whether this course helps promote sociology (it’s relevant!) or contributes to the criticism that we study “soft” topics (you’re paying that much money to go to Georgetown and you’re learning what?).

Also, the quote in support from Dyson from the department chair here is not the greatest sociological defense: it is a popular course that is stimulating conversation. Rather, the better defense comes from Dyson himself who suggests the class is really about “race, gender, ethnicity, class, economic inequality, social injustice…” (We could also add culture to this mix.) In some ways, the topic here isn’t that important (it could be Lady Gaga, for instance, or Hollywood blockbusters or how gender is portrayed in advertising or the NFL) but rather how sociological topics are part of everyday life.

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