New faculty spotlight: Jabari Evans
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
Jabari Evans is an assistant professor of race and media in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He comes to the College of Information and Communications with a Ph.D. in media, technology and society from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree in communication and culture from the University of Pennsylvania. Evans pursued his doctorate after a 10-year career as a hip-hop artist, performing as “Naledge” in the rap group Kidz in the Hall.
How did you get interested in academia and the field of race and media?
I kind of took the long way home. I was a touring professional hip-hop musician for about a decade, pretty much throughout my 20s. Right out of college, I got a record deal with Sony at 22 years old and I pursued that pretty vigorously. I thought that was what I was going to do with my life. If you would have told me I’d be a Ph.D., I would have laughed. But to be fair, I was always very serious about education. Both of my parents have Ph.D.s.
I saw my dad teach at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and my mom was also a professor and a psychologist. I saw that. And in undergrad, I studied media and mass communication at the University of Pennsylvania. So, I always was oriented toward thinking about media in ways that maybe others weren't. That was something that always interested me and fascinated me.
Once I got to the point where my career as an artist was stalling out and I found myself back home in Chicago, I was immersing myself into mentoring youth and doing arts education-based stuff. I started a not-for-profit out of my recording studio in Chicago. In pursuing grants for that project, people around me said, ‘You know, you really have the type of presence and the type of mind to be a professor or a Ph.D., thinking about policy level stuff.’ So that's kind of where that thought process began for me. But I think having two parents who both have Ph.D.s made it a little more tangible.
When we're thinking about media and the ways in which the landscape is changing, young people know far more about things than even I do. I'm just able to put it in context.
What was your dissertation?
My dissertation looks at an arts education program that was designed for Chicago Public Schools that re-imagines music education by including hip-hop culture as the centerpiece for student learning. The program was allowing students to learn how to make beats as well as to do hip-hop songwriting and spoken word, but also to learn the recording arts — learning how to record themselves in a studio, learning how to mix and master sound and how to use some of the latest state-of-the-art audio equipment and audio software. While I went into this thinking about it from a standpoint of just re-imagining music education to include hip-hop, I came away from it with this idea that hip-hop, as it is in its purest form, allows students, Black and brown students in particular, to become really thoughtful about themselves, their place in society, and also how to solve problems and think about things in terms of the greater good. And I really came away from it thinking about hip-hop-based education as being a way to re-imagine civics.
Why did you choose to come to the University of South Carolina?
People make places. And the people in the department, they wowed me. And that led me to think about the University of South Carolina as somewhere I could see myself long term. The position that I'm in — assistant professor of race and media — just that title alone is saying that we are not just a diversity effort in superficial terms. We’re allowing you to study and research and do work that is going to push disciplines forward. We're giving you a green light to not just join the department but help shape its future. And that was very enticing to me. And Columbia is very charming as well. Once I was able to actually do my campus visit in person, I was able to see myself here.
And how has it been so far?
I'm teaching a course called “Minorities, Women and the Mass Media,” and it's a pretty large course. And I think, COVID issues aside, it's been really enriching for me to be able to have a large class and really have an exchange of ideas. Ultimately, when we're thinking about media and the ways in which the landscape is changing, young people know far more about things than even I do. I'm just able to put it in context. So, I love hearing what students have to say about things. And I think just being physically back in the classroom, it's invigorating for me. I'm teaching another class on media and youth. I'm finding that students here are very sharp and I love that they keep you on your toes.
What do you hope to accomplish over the next three to five years?
Research wise, I'm already working on my first book, which is a sort of an adaptation from the dissertation, drawing out this idea of hip-hop civics and the idea that Black and brown youth need spaces where they not only have access to digital tools and technology, but access to opportunities that can make them experts and that can lead to significant economic opportunity. I'm also working on a second book thinking about how Black youth and urban environments are now turning to social media as a means for economic opportunity.
I think in the next three to five years, I really want to acclimate myself to the community of Columbia and particularly the Black community, because that's something that was really central to my work in Chicago.
Do you have a talent or something you've done that people might find surprising?
I think the music, that someone would be a rap artist and then become a professor, that’s surprising. I’m also a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi. I also played college baseball at Penn. That was a huge part of my existence when I was younger. My aspiration at one point in time was to be a sports journalist. I went from being an aspiring journalist to being a professor in the department of journalism. My dad reminds me of that a lot. He's like, ‘You kind of you ended up where you started in a roundabout way.’ That's why I said I feel like I took the long way home, but I'm here.
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