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Hip-hop feminist brings together two loves for discussion on campus

Heather Day (second from left) interning as a teaching artist at Art Start in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Heather Day (second from left) interning as a teaching artist at Art Start in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Heather Day '09 is a feminist. She's also a huge hip-hop fan. People seem to get the feminist thing, she says. But hip-hop - how can you be a feminist and like hip-hop?

"It was only a matter of time before they butted heads or started crossing paths," she said.

But Day has learned to turn the juxtaposition of her two loves into activism, using hip-hop as a means to empower youths and launch discussions about gender, sexism and homophobia. April 9, Day, with the help of several campus sponsors, is bringing the debate to Connecticut College with a group of the nation's foremost hip-hop scholars and activists affiliated with Rap Sessions - a nationally touring group that brings issues in the hip-hop community to the forefront with town hall-style meetings.

"How do you explain why you love something?" Day said. "Hip-hop has been my soundtrack since high school."

Hip-hop can be sexist, misogynistic and violent. Often, men are shown as "pimps" and women as "hos." But for Day, hip-hop is more than these stereotypes; it is so much a part of her identity that it's like breathing. She wakes each morning to an alarm clock playing music by hip-hop band, The Roots. Her Twitter account is filled with political news feeds and hip-hop blog posts. And while she's checking her Twitter account in the morning or doing homework in the evening, she's listening to what she calls her online hip-hop "mixtapes."

"Over the last 30 years, hip-hop culture has proven itself to be a positive force in the lives of many young people - as an artistic medium, a business opportunity and a tool for social activism," Day said. "Despite these constructive influences, arguably the most well-known fact about the culture today is that rap lyrics and music videos frequently degrade women. For many, the term 'hip-hop' has become synonymous with misogyny and homophobia."

After reading a magazine article in high school about violence against women in the hip-hop world, Day tried giving up music by culpable artists, but found she was losing some of her favorite albums. That's when she decided to 'face the music' both literally and figuratively and turn her challenge into an opportunity for activism. As a college junior, she led workshops on hip-hop, gender and violence with middle school youth in a Connecticut College mentoring program. Over the summer, Day continued this work, interning as a teaching artist at Art Start in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she designed hip-hop workshops for youth from shelters, foster homes and the juvenile justice system, choosing to use the power and influence of hip-hop as a tool for debate and change. But her busiest time wasn't her work week, but her "work weekend," where she traveled to free hip-hop concerts deep in Brooklyn and Harlem.

"I believe that historically, hip-hop has existed to do good things for individuals and communities" she said, "Although the contradictions are challenging at times, my activism has become my outlet. I'm still finding out what this term 'hip-hop feminist' means."

"Rap Sessions: Community Dialogue on Gender and Hip-Hop," is April 9 from 4:30 6:30 p.m. in room 014 of the F.W. Olin Science Center and is free and open to the public.

Featured panelists are:

- Hip-hop journalist Joan Morgan, author of "When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip-Hop Feminist"

- Filmmaker Byron Hurt, director of "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," a film about misogyny and hip-hop

- Professor Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, director of African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbuilt University and author of "Pimps Up, Hos Down: Hip Hop and the New Gender Politics"

- Professor Raquel Z. Rivera, sociology professor at Tufts University and author of "New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone"

The panel will be moderated by Bakari Kitwana, a journalist, activist and political analyst and author of "The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Cultures," which has been adopted as a course book in classrooms at more than 100 colleges and universities.

For more information about Rap Sessions, visit

This event is sponsored by The Jamestown Project, Campus Progress, The Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media, Connecticut College Student Life, CCSRE, the Holleran Center, Student Activities Council, Dean of the College Community, Unity House and affiliated Student Clubs, Dean of Multicultural Affairs, Gender and Women's Studies, American Studies, History, English, Human Development, Sociology. Music by DJ E@zy.

March 23, 2009