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Culturally Responsive Community Engagement Programming and the University Library: Lessons Learned from Half a Decade of VTDITC

By Craig E. Arthur, Dr. Freddy Paige, La’ Portia Perkins, Jasmine Weiss, and Dr. Michael Williams

(Good Homie Signs’ “Hip Hop @ VT” mural 7/18)

In Brief

VTDITC: Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech is an award-winning series of experiential learning-focused, culturally responsive community engagement programs. It is deeply rooted in hip hop culture and is cosponsored by numerous organizations both on campus and in the community; the heart of the program is undoubtedly the Virginia Tech University Libraries. We have hosted more than 350 programs over the past five academic years. Notably, our Community Engagement Fellows, a team of undergraduate and graduate students, helped design and co-teach approximately forty-five media literacy workshops in the community beyond campus in the ‘19-’20 academic year. Our guiding mission is to remove barriers to entry, to recognize art as scholarship, to learn by doing, and, importantly, to create an expressive and collaborative environment which allows for creative freedom. 


VTDITC: Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech, or, more commonly, Virginia Tech Digging in the Crates, is a practitioner-focused, student-driven, culturally responsive community engagement program that prioritizes experiential learning. The multifaceted and ever-evolving program is based in Southwest Virginia on the campus of Virginia Tech (a public, land grant university with a student body of approximately 30,000). VTDITC was co-created by a diverse transdisciplinary team and is now in our fifth consecutive academic year of programming. The program has iteratively developed since the Fall 2016 semester; we have successfully hosted more than 350 events. 

Importantly, VTDITC builds on a 22 year history of hip hop based curricula and approximately 35 years of hip hop based co-curricular programming at the University. VTDITC’s ability to connect and engage such a large group of people is a special attribute of the program. Many universities have similar clubs or groups that bring together dancers with dancers or rappers with rappers, for instance, but VTDITC is a unique community engagement program in that it prioritizes unity over stratification. The hip hop community at VT can be relatively small if people were counted solely by an arbitrary declaration like ‘hip hop scholar.’ However, when we invite our community to engage in hip hop as a culture, our participation numbers dwarf many other programs that could be considered our peers. VTDITC’s success is at least partially due to the fact that a dynamic group of hip hop practitioners who embody the culture beyond our connection to the University co-create and care for it. We shift the university setting and resources to support hip hop culture, not the other way around.

This article does not aim to chronicle the important role hip hop culture plays in education and college campuses (see Rawls & Robinson, 2019, as well as Petchauer, 2009 and 2012, Gosa & Fields, 2012, and Nielson, 2013) nor does it seek to record hip hop culture’s history at Virginia Tech (see Fralin, et al., 2018). We also are not seeking to describe a hip hop ethos (see Harrison and Arthur, 2019). Rather, we look forward to sharing this case study as an exemplar of culturally responsive programming supported by a university library. In this article we explain how as engaged scholars we commit to understanding the role of culture in education as flexible, local, and global. 

Hit the Crates & Create

The VTDITC community chose our name as a way to recognize one of the many research processes inherent to traditional hip hop arts communities as well as a nod to specific cultural stalwarts. The term ‘digging in the crates’ refers to the traditional information seeking/archival research process that hip hop DJs and sample-based producers use to find their source material. Digging, understandably, is the physical and intellectual labor of the discovery process in this context – or the work required to locate, sort, and analyze vinyl records. The crates are the acid free archival box equivalent for the vinyl DJ. A DJ or producer who spends time in the crates has a larger musical vocabulary as a result – just as time spent in library archives benefits a research writer (Craig, 2013 & Rice, 2003). Beyond our name, the VTDITC program utilizes effective engagement practices from the broader hip hop community to increase the reach of the Virginia Tech University Libraries’ programming. Providing opportunities for community members to engage with hip hop culture’s productions old and new, local and global, is an objective of many of our efforts. 

Our Guiding Principles and Mission Statement

Early in the development of the program, our Leadership Board co-created our guiding principles: to remove barriers to entry, to recognize art as scholarship, to learn by doing, and, arguably most importantly, to establish an expressive and collaborative environment which allows for creative freedom. Nearly half a decade later, applying these principles still guides the program in the direction of success. 

Our mission statement was created shortly after founding the program. Although it has been remixed and edited slightly over the years, the essence has remained the same. The latest iteration of our mission statement is as follows: 

Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech, or VTDITC, exists to foster community-based learning among hip hop artists, fans, practitioners, and scholars digitally and globally. We aim to model that students, faculty, and staff’s personal interests are worthy of academic study and publication as well as further institutionalize Hip Hop Studies’ presence on Virginia Tech’s campus.

Another motivator that guides our programming is the need to challenge the white heteronormativity of higher education and, especially, library spaces (Rosa & Henke, 2017). We build upon the work of scholars such as Ladson-Billings (1995, 2014), Gay (2000), and Rawls and Robinson (2019) in an effort to nurture both the shared and divergent cultural backgrounds and sensibilities of our community members. Removing misconceptions that specific groups are not to be included in the socially constructed identity of a hip hop scholar or practitioner requires intentional effort toward increasing representation of excluded identities. Recognizing that hip hop culture was birthed and nurtured in Black and brown working class communities, our Leadership Board prioritizes creating opportunities for hip hop arts practitioners and scholars of color. Beyond considering race and ethnicity, we are deliberate about requiring gender parity among compensated guest artists and scholars. These are two examples of how the VTDITC community acts as agents of change to redress historical and contemporary oppression in educational spaces (NYSED, N.D.). 

The Origins of VTDITC

The first meeting of what would eventually become our Leadership Board, the program’s decision making body, took place on December 9, 2016 in Newman Library. Newman is Virginia Tech’s main campus library. It is also home to a modest recording studio (now known as Media Design Studio B). The focus of this initial meeting was to create a monthly hip hop-focused seminar series that would take place in the largest venue in Newman, the Multipurpose Room or MPR. Volume 1: Intro to DJing and Fair Use occurred a couple of months later in February 2017. 

Along with the University Libraries, representatives from a variety of both student organizations and campus units served as co-sponsors and worked hard to make the event a success. To start the event, students Dylan Holiday and Alayna Carey (Alayna is a member of our Leadership Board at present) taught a workshop with librarian Craig Arthur. The workshop addressed the intersections and divergences of DJing and fair use principles. Afterwards, the sixty or so attendees had the opportunity to each try their hand at DJing with a variety of equipment set up for their use. The vast majority of the equipment belonged to members of the Leadership Board. Virginia Tech’s own Breaking (also known as breakdancing) Club ended the event with an informal cypher. The event’s sponsoring organizations included the Africana Studies Program, the Black Cultural Center, the Flowmigos (another name for the VT Breaking Club), the Intercultural Engagement Center, the Gloria D. Smith Professorship in Black Studies, Students of Hip Hop Legacy (a club related to hip hop fandom), VT Expressions (a club focused on hosting open mic events), the VT Women’s Center, and WUVT 90.7FM (the University’s student-run radio station). This workshop is now considered a foundational component of our  seminar series. It kicks off every year as a welcome event to our community members both old and new. The second iteration of this workshop received front-page coverage in the local newspaper; the article highlighted how hip hop culture was connecting students, faculty, staff, and community members in the Newman Library (Korth, 2018). (For an approximation of the vibes at this recurring workshop, see VTDITC, 2018A.)

The Six Elements of VTDITC: Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech

VTDITC is comprised of six main components: 1) the seminar series, 2) media literacy workshops, 3) weekly studio hours, 4) the community engagement fellows program, 5) credit-bearing curriculum, and 6) practitioners for hire. Each of these elements serves a unique subset of our community; for instance, the audience of our media literacy workshops are typically K-12 students while our practitioners for hire element connects local artists with campus units for opportunities for the artists to be compensated for their talents. While the program originated with the seminar series, the majority of our labor is spent on the other components.

1) The Seminar Series: VT’s Longest Running Monthly Event

Since that first seminar in February 2017, we have hosted 22 additional iterations of the seminar. Approximately two dozen artists and scholars from beyond the campus have been compensated to share their expertise with the community we foster. The series, which takes place (originally in-person, now virtually [due to COVID-19], and, in due time hopefully, both virtually and in-person) on the second or third Thursday evenings of September, October, November, February, March, and April. Our seminars specifically occur during these months because that is when the regular school semesters take place. December and May are skipped due to the harried nature of the exam season.

The seminars have addressed a wide range of topics including but not limited to gender, artistic ethics, heteronormativity, entrepreneurship, race, and police brutality. A recent example of how we addressed a topic using a hip hop lens was at our seminar VTDITC Volume 22: Hip Hop & Police Brutality. We hosted several scholars to discuss how hip hop music has long documented police violence. We selected hip hop songs that featured lyrics chronicling artists’ personal interactions with police over the course of three decades. Throughout this seminar, we conducted a group temporal analysis of how artists use their music to express the climate of police brutality across time periods and geographic differences. Ideally each year the planning committee develops seminars that directly discuss music creation as well as seminars that engage other hip hop practitioners in topics such as dance, the visual arts, journalism, and entrepreneurship. 

While including academic voices is important, intentionally prioritizing the perspectives of hip hop arts practitioners is essential to our program. Our seminar series does not regularly follow the typical academic panel format. Even the events that do resemble a more traditional academic seminar feature a single artistic performance at a minimum. The information discussed in our seminars applies and appeals to a wide range of individuals. As a result, attendees include Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff, that of nearby institutions, and community members from the broader New River Valley and Roanoke Valley. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, guests must now virtually attend our seminars. Over the past few months, we have had individuals from across the United States check out our events. Previously (before COVID-19), guests would need to physically come to Virginia Tech’s Newman Library to attend these events. 

When attendees arrive at our seminars, they are greeted by a live DJ mix of hip hop music curated by our own DJ C. Sharp. After the welcome mix, the event’s Creative Director and MC (roles currently occupied by Jasmine and La’ Portia) bring the community together for announcements. We begin by expressing gratitude to our community partners as well as acknowledging the Tutelo/Monacan Nations as well as the enslaved African people (Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus was formerly the site of the Smithfield Plantation) who occupied this land before us. Following our announcements and land acknowledgements, we introduce our artists, scholars, and/or practitioners and they begin their presentations. Throughout the seminar there are often exercises where the community interacts with the practitioners. When meeting in person, food was provided midway through the seminar for the community to share. This feature of our seminar series symbolizes a hip hop tradition of breaking bread, but also serves as an opportunity to (albeit marginally) help reduce food scarcity on campus (US GAO, 2019). At the conclusion of our seminar, we make sure to allow time for an open question and answer session so that the community can have another opportunity to engage with the practitioners and as well as each other. We have also hosted numerous more participatory, performance-based events such as beat and MC battles. (See VTDITC, 2018B for highlights of our second annual beat battle as an example of how we are reimagining the seminar format.) 

(Some members of the VTDITC Leadership Board 9/17; L-R: Eric Luu (‘18-’19 Creative Director, VT ‘19), Craig Arthur (University Libraries), Juel Downing (Black Cultural Center Student Assistant ‘17-’18, VT ‘18), Yamin Semali (Atlanta-based MC, Producer, DJ, & Recording Engineer), Mallory Foutch (former Program Coordinator, VT Women’s Center), and Dr. A. Kwame Harrison (Professor, Department of Sociology & the Africana Studies Program); image courtesy of Richard Randolph [VT ‘20])

2) Do Things for the Kids: Media Literacy Workshops for the Broader Community

This important component predates the program and is arguably our community’s favorite element of the VTDITC program. Craig has offered free DJ classes throughout the New River Valley for close to a decade. He had already integrated his twenty-year DJ practice into his librarian praxis prior to joining Virginia Tech. Recognizing that Virginia Tech University Libraries was in the process of creating its Digital Literacy Initiative shortly after his arrival, he realized that these workshops would dovetail well with many of the learning outcomes therein and could support the Initiative’s efforts. Since that time, we have offered more than 100 creation-focused workshops for the larger community. 

Throughout the years, some of our more regular community partners have included – but are by no means limited to – the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Virginia, numerous iterations of the local alumnae chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated’s annual STEAM Camp, Roanoke Public Libraries, Higher Achievement, Incorporated, Vinton Public Library, and the West End Center for Youth. Each of these organizations excels in providing programming to populations that Virginia Tech has traditionally underserved. 

Although the pandemic has put a temporary stop to our in-person media literacy workshops, we are currently re-developing our lesson plans to work in an online synchronous learning environment. We have hosted three such virtual workshops this semester. Our workshops previously prioritized providing both access to music production equipment and utilizing an experiential learning approach to connect hip hop’s creative practices to STEAM education. Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education is enhanced by hip hop practices which encourage students to engage in inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. Unlike STEM, the addition of the arts component adds opportunities for students to thrive and connect with abstract concepts (Liao, 2016). While it is difficult to replicate the hands-on experience – such as time with turntables, records, DJ mixers, samplers, drum machines, and microphones – the online environment is well equipped for other creative practices like writing raps, critiques, and reflections. Online students are also able to engage activities which allow them to explore the relationship of beats per minute in a song and other numerical factors. Engineering is an emerging area of interest in the VTDITC media literacy workshops. We hope to explore the connection between the built environment and community impacts. Hip hop artists regularly communicate their experiences within their environmental context. Billboard charting hip hop artists have published songs that reflect the impacts that natural disasters, environmental injustice, and unsafe infrastructure systems have had on Black communities. Through a lyrical analysis of songs to introduce engineering issues, students are encouraged to consider engineering as a career path to serve their communities. 

3) Cooking Up: Studio Hours

Studio Hours are a weekly (every Friday afternoon) three hour open studio session for any member of our VTDITC community to record, refine the mixes of their existing recordings, write new material, and seek guidance from their fellow artists. Importantly, Studio Hours serves as a fellowship-focused space and a markedly strong community of practice is evident. This component of the program began in the Spring semester of 2018 and has persisted since. It takes place in the location of our initial planning meeting back in December 2016: Media Design Studio B in Newman Library. MDS B offers a recording booth, several audio interfaces, condenser microphones, and two computer workstations – one for audio recording and mixing and another for audio-visual production and/or audio pre-production work. The studio can comfortably accommodate approximately a dozen people. We prioritize the artists’ comfort  and have long been intentional about not overpacking MDS B. The VTDITC community has not only hosted the longest continuous program in MDS B with Studio Hours, we have also provided valuable user feedback to the team that runs the space. Our programming has helped transition the space and equipment therein from a faculty-focused curriculum development lab to a more outwardly-focused recording studio marketed to the broader community.

Numerous songs have been recorded in MDS B by VTDITC community members during Studio Hours. Students retain ownership of their work and are guided through the process of publishing their music in both digital and analog formats. The Black Cultural Center Mixtape is an example of a community project that came into being largely as a result of Studio Hours. The BCC Mixtape can be found on Virginia Tech’s Black Cultural Center’s Soundcloud page; it was a long term, intensive project that was the brainchild of former BCC Director Kimberly Williams. The project’s production, which took place over the course of two semesters, was largely orchestrated by the VTDITC community. 

VTDITC students have also performed live on WUVT90.7fm, the University’s student-run radio station, and as opening acts for several major artists when they have performed on campus. We are particularly proud that multiple VTDITC alumni have gained employment in creative arts-focused organizations. Many have continued their connection to VTDITC by collaborating with the current community. We have also hosted regionally and internationally renowned artists and recording engineers as a component of our Studio Hours program. They include Stimulator Jones, Tim Donovan, Omar Offendum, Sum, Ian Levy, and Emcee Lioness. As a result of these particular studio sessions, several collaborative songs have been released; they feature students, faculty members, and community members. 

Each semester, a VTDITC community member – often the Lead Technical Director – serves as the resident recording engineer and Studio Hours community manager. We also attempt – with varying degrees of success – to ensure that we have an aspiring engineer in the wings to sustain the program’s momentum. There are relatively many Virginia Tech students who create their own music, but there are a limited number of students wanting to learn the engineering process necessary to record music. As a result, we intentionally promote the engineer mentor/mentee experience in hopes that we find interested individuals. Our current Creative Director, Jasmine, has expressed interest in music engineering and our Leadership Board is working to ensure that our current Lead Technical Director shares all of their knowledge. These student leaders have been essential to the success of our constantly evolving and co-constructed studio etiquette guidelines as well. The guidelines ultimately reflect the values of the program and, in turn, ensure that the media co-created during Studio Hours is indicative of what we are trying to accomplish as a community. Since the guidelines are prominently on display and reiterated at each of our sessions, they rarely need to be actively enforced.

(VTDITC Studio Etiquette guidelines – Fall 2019)

4) Learning by Doing: The VTDITC Community Engagement Fellows

The faculty members on the Leadership Board created the VTDITC Community Engagement Fellows program as a way to intentionally transfer skills. Students apply to partner with faculty members and dedicate time specifically to cultivating their expertise. This requires a relational process of shared responsibility with students and faculty. Inasmuch, the VTDITC Community Engagement Fellows program helped us achieve an aspirational goal – to increase the agency of students within the community. The fellows – a team of approximately half a dozen undergraduate and graduate students – are essential to the success of our seminar series, our media literacy workshops, and Studio Hours. Fellows comprise an interdisciplinary team that represent a wide swath of campus life and student organizations. Oftentimes, the seemingly sole unifying feature of this team is that nearly all of the fellows are hip hop arts practitioners – be it DJs, MCs, beat makers, visual artists, or dancers. 

Each fellow is classified as either a technical director or a creative director depending on their interests and skill sets. The technical directors, led by a Lead Technical Director, are responsible for the more mechanical aspects such as setting up and striking equipment as well as DJing and running audiovisual equipment (and, lately, monitoring chat and moderating attendees) during our programs. The creative directors, led by a Lead Creative Director, handle the more visionary aspects of the program. They help determine the upcoming topics for our seminar series and identify artists and scholars with whom we should engage. They also shape the visual and virtual identity of the program via graphic design and actively maintaining our social media presence. Despite the differentiation of duties, both technical and creative directors play an active role in co-designing and co-leading our media literacy workshops. Inasmuch, the VTDITC program allows for unrivaled and, importantly, compensated experiential learning opportunities on campus and in the community. Numerous alums are now working in hip hop arts-based or adjacent professions – as recording engineers in commercial studies or as a community manager for an international breaking school, for example – due in part to this experience.

5) Not So Formal Learning: The Curricular Components

VTDITC is, without question, a largely co-curricular program. However, along with founding Leadership Board member Dr. A. Kwame Harrison, Craig has co-taught two iterations of a credit bearing course that was directly tied to the VTDITC program: Africana Studies 4354/Sociology 4124: Foundations of Hip Hop. This course was offered in Fall 2017 (63 students) and Spring 2019 (39 students). In keeping with the emphasis on experiential learning evident in the rest of the VTDITC program, students were afforded the opportunity to create media projects rather than traditional academic essays in both iterations of this course. Many students made use of the resources – equipment loans and the Media Design Studio B, for instance – provided to them by the University Libraries to do so.

We have partnered with the Department of Sociology and the Africana Studies program, largely thanks to Dr. Harrison, to co-teach several independent study courses as well. Foci of these courses have included MCing, coordinating events on campus, and internships in commercial recording studios. 

6) You Can’t Pay Your Bills with Exposure: Practitioners For Hire

As previously mentioned, the VTDITC program intentionally prioritizes hip hop arts practitioners in all that we do. We do our best to leverage our campus relationships to connect these practitioners with compensated work. There are typically many opportunities – and unfortunately the majority pay with only exposure – for visual artists, DJs, photographers, videographers, and dancers to share their work on a college campus. Over the years, we have successfully connected members of our community with rare paid opportunities provided by the University.

One example of our practitioners for hire component is the relationship we have fostered with North Carolina based muralist Good Homie Signs and the University. Good Homie has created six of the seven murals (the remaining mural was created by MEME of the CBS and Few & Far crews) VTDITC has coordinated since the beginning of the program. “Narrative Art”, commissioned in April 2019 for a co-sponsored program on the rhetorics of graffiti with the Department of English and Dr. Jonathan Gross (Purdue University), has been on display in a popular meeting room in Shanks Hall, the home of the English Department, since June of last year. This component of the VTDITC program is an innovation to the best of our knowledge; we hope to continue to connect hip hop arts practitioners with similar paid opportunities on our campus in the coming years.

(Good Homie Signs’ “Narrative Art” mural completed 4/19 and permanently installed in the Department of English’s conference room – 6/19)

(Good Homie Signs’ Ut Prosim [or “that I may serve” – the University’s motto] mural completed 9/20 and installed permanently in Newman Library 10/20; note: third image courtesy of Cat Piper [VT ‘21])

(Good Homie Signs’ Bobcat Studios mural completed 11/20 and located in the Bobcat Studios recording studio at Radford High School [Radford, VA])

The Voice of the Community

To help assess the program, community members are asked to share their feedback. The following quotes are excerpts from testimonials, post-event interviews, and event planning meetings. Quotes were selected to describe how members of our community speak to the connection that the VTDITC programming supports.

 “Even outside of breaking, VTDITC always brings a really cool vibe to whatever they have going on, whether it’s a rap sesh or Craig spinning records or even just chilling and talking about current issues. It’s like a hip hop family, which is nice to see anywhere, especially in a place like Blacksburg.”
Virgil Thornton

Love is an important ingredient in our events to balance the work required to discuss the tough issues our community faces. Academia is dominated with debates and lectures, and while both of those formats are present in VTDITC programming, many of the discussions at our events are modeled to mimic a family dinner conversation. Food is present and our crowd separates into small focus groups. 

“My favorite memories were the beat battles–more specifically, seeing professors and students compete, champion, and show a bombastic love for each other.” 

Kimberly Williams 

Breaking down hierarchy is extremely important to empower voices. The VTDITC community creates opportunities for faculty, staff, students, and non-University affiliated community members to compete on a level playing field. Healthy competition allows for supportive energy to be transferred from the community into individuals and their creations. Many of the artistic works shared in our competitions are works in progress that are improved through community input. 

“VTDITC is more than a library program; it is a community program, yet I continue to discuss its connection to the library and my librarianship. This is because working with VTDITC showed me the value of leaving the library to listen to the people the library serves, and this is a lesson I am extremely grateful for as it makes me a better librarian.”

Kodi Saylor

“I learned to listen better, respect better, and uplift better by being in that environment, which is something that came about naturally because that positive energy was already present.”
Jon Kabongo

Listening to others and valuing what they have to say is a non-negotiable community requirement of VTDITC. The success of the VTDITC program is greatly due to our ability to listen to what community members want and need. Our community members feel listened to and reciprocate our efforts by listening to others at our events. Virginia Tech has aspirational community guidelines which unfortunately are not always upheld. Our community is not without flaw, but it is apparent that we are committed to superseding the expectations and standards of the broader university environment. We are not building a utopia but an incredible amount of trust is being developed within our community where open mics and vulnerable identities co-exist. 

Plans for the Future

We feel confident that we have the program more or less dialed in both in practice and in theory, however we would like to increase the number of people that participate in the program. To date, the VTDITC community has been funded largely by the University Libraries (approximately $10,000-$15,000 per year) via departmental support for outreach programming as well as by financial support from campus units and internal grants. The vast majority of these funds have gone directly to student wages, artist and scholar honorariums, and purchasing the equipment necessary to support the program. We have received several internal grants (ranging from $500 to $10,000) in additional funding. To increase our impact in the broader community, we plan to aggressively seek external funding and sponsorships beyond campus. 

Additionally, we also hope to further refine our programmatic assessment. Qualitative data have been collected from events and engagements which has helped VTDITC grow. A student collected several testimonials at our events as a part of a journalism project which was continued by our event staff in hopes of finding opportunities for improvement. Participant testimonials have helped tune the amount of time allotted for discussion at events as well as the importance of communicating to students opportunities to become the hosts of our events. Testimonial data also helped the VTDITC event team create  “no-photos please” lanyards to protect student privacy, especially when engaging in politicized topics. Planning meetings for VTDITC events are open to anyone, and insights provided by visiting community members have improved our events – especially as new topics are explored in conjunction with new partners. In particular, visiting community members have helped us take an iterative approach to how we promote our events and spread the reach of our programming.

VTDITC hosts the most attended and longest running series in the Newman Library, and while the participation rates are impressive, we strive to develop richer quantitative measures of success to explore and assess the program’s success. With the program growing in scale, quantitative measures are beginning to become more applicable for measuring program success through standard statistical procedures. For our online programming, which has connected over 160 participants in the same virtual meeting, a survey is being designed to accompany our registration process which will collect likert scale data to record participant perceptions of engagement and knowledge gains. This likert scale data will be recorded and used to help the Leadership and Advisory Boards make decisions about the program’s trajectory. We also plan to leverage this data as evidence of the program’s impact for external grant funding. 


Community practices are established over long periods of time. Although the program is almost half a decade old, VTDITC is just getting started. Constructing, deconstructing, and re-envisioning the program has been a repetitive process. Working in the university environment, VTDITC was designed to be dynamic and capable of growing even with a large number of individuals whose tenures are relatively brief. Many challenges are present when engaging with communities as volatile as those in higher education, especially with respect to continuity, trust, and funding. Our guiding principles and engagement practices help to mitigate several common failures. Post graduation VTDITC students have open lines of  communication with the program and provide guidance to the generations that follow. VTDITC only engages in community partnerships that are designed to meet community needs, and prioritize community empowerment, not the further establishment of the academic institution. Financial constraints are considered opportunities to develop alternate paths towards success, while maintaining a high standard for the quality of our outputs. While the VTDITC community cannot be duplicated at other institutions, by presenting our process, we hope to provide others with the ability to sample our program to create their own sound engagement practices with their community.  


This article would not have been possible without the scores of students, artists, community members, as well as Virginia Tech faculty and staff who have played varying – but all vital – roles in the VTDITC crew over the last half decade. 

Arthur J. Boston, Ian Beilin, and Ryan Randall’s formal peer-reviews were also invaluable as we wrote, remixed, and reworked this articles’ numerous drafts. Thank you for your patience, kindness, and support.

The VTDITC community dedicates our work to the memory of:
James “Trigganamatree” Maples (5/23/93-10/8/18) – the reigning VTDITC MC Battle ChampionChris “DJ G-Wiz” Gwaltney (3/12/87-11/21/20) – early supporter of the program and co-teacher of numerous VTDITC media literacy workshops


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VTDITC [VTDITC Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech]. (2018A, October 19). #VTDITC vol 10: Intro to DJing & Fair Use [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/OOLWlylnKlI 

VTDITC [VTDITC Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech]. (2018B, November 2). #VTDITC vol 11: Beat Battle & Music Production Workshop featuring BeatsByJBlack [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/NbOFSk20S-A


VTDITC: A Rough and Incomplete Timeline

  • 5/29/2016: Craig was invited by Dr. Karen Davis to teach a DJ-based media literacy workshop for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated’s Tau Mu Omega Chapter’s first STEAM Camp. The camp happened on the campus of Radford University which was both Dr. Davis’ and Craig’s employer at the time. Although Craig had been DJing for 18 years and had taught numerous individuals the craft by this point, this workshop was the first time he had the opportunity to teach a group of middle school students from a media literacy perspective.
  • 6/4/2016: Craig was invited back to teach a DJ-based media literacy workshop for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s Tau Mu Omega Chapter’s second annual STEAM Camp. This collaboration continues annually to the present. 
  • 9/10/2016: Craig began working at his alma mater in the role of Teaching & Learning Engagement Librarian.
  • 12/9/2016: The first meeting of what would become the VTDITC Leadership Board took place in what is now the Media Design Studio B in Newman Library.
  • 2/14/2017: VTDITC collaborated with Roanoke Public Libraries for the For The Love of Hip Hop program at their main branch. RPL and VTDITC have partnered roughly a dozen times over the interceding years and our relationship with RPL is one unquestionably one of our strongest community partnerships.
  • 2/16/2017: VTDITC vol 1: Intro to DJing & Fair Use. This event – along with every other in-person seminar series event – took place in Newman Library’s Multipurpose Room. VT students Dylan Holliday and Alayna Carey served as workshop co-teachers alongside Craig. Alayna (VT Class of ‘20) is still a member of the VTDITC Leadership Board.
  • 3/16/2017-3/18/2017: First VT Hip Hop Appreciation Weekend – a three day collaboration between Students of Hip Hop Legacy, the Flowmigos/VT Breaking Club, and VTDITC – occurred.
  • 3/16/2017: VTDITC vol 2: Hip Hop Entrepreneurship featured DJ Zomanno (Los Angeles based DJ and VT alum), Justin Kim (Los Angeles based musican and model), and VT student Nathan Zed. Dr. A. Kwame Harrison (VT Department of Sociology and Africana Studies Program) moderated the discussion.
  • 3/18/2017: Give Me A Break 3 versus 3 B-Boy/B-Girl Jam (sponsored by the Flowmigos/VT Breaking Club with assistance from VTDITC) took place in the Newman Library Multipurpose Room.
  • 4/20/2017: VTDITC vol 3: Gender & Hip Hop featured legendary poet and VT faculty Nikki Giovanni. VT PhD student Corey Miles and the Black Cultural Center’s Director Kimberly Williams moderated the discussion.
  • 9/14/2017: VTDITC vol 4: Beat Battle & Music Production Workshop featured Yamin Semali (Atlanta based producer, DJ, MC, and recording engineer). Local music producer Electrobro won first place.
  • 10/12/2017: VTDITC vol 5: MC Battle & Workshop featured DayTripper (Atlanta based producer, DJ, and MC) and Emcee Lioness (Maryland based MC and VT alum). Trigganamatree (aka James Maples who passed tragically the following year) won the battle.
  • 11/2/2017: VTDITC vol 6: Hip Hop & Digital Literacy featured Dr. AD Carson (UVA Department of Music), Sum (Los Angeles based MC), VT student Nathan Zed, and Stimulator Jones (Roanoke based musician). Dr. A. Kwame Harrsion moderated the discussion.
  • Spring semester 2018: We began hosting VTDITC Studio Hours in what is now the Media Design Studio B in Newman Library. The sessions occurred from 11am to 2pm every Friday that semester as well as during the summer.
  • 2/11/2018-2/17/2018: VTDITC Artist/Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Los Angeles based artist Sum served as the University Libraries first (and only thus far) artist/entrepreneur in residence. Sum met with over 30 members of the campus community during his residency. Afterwards he presented a document with numerous recommendations and debriefed interested members of the University Libraries with his findings via a virtual meeting.
  • 2/15/2018: VTDITC vol 7: The Hour Challenge – a collaborative music creation competition – took place. Three teams of approximately half a dozen randomly chosen local hip hop artists were given an hour to create a full song. The crowd picked their favorite at the conclusion of the event. Logistically it was a nightmare but it all worked out somehow. Recap video
  • 2/28/2018: The Roanoke Times publishes a front page story on the VTDITC program.
  • 3/15/2018-3/17/2018: 2nd Annual VT Hip Hop Appreciation Weekend transpired. SOHHL, the Flowmigos, and VTDITC served as co-sponsors.
  • 3/15/2018: VTDITC vol 8: Hip Hop & Liberation featured Dr. Brandy Faulkner (VT Department of Political Science), Omar Offendum (Los Angeles based MC), Dumi Right (VT alum and Virginia based MC), and Saba Taj (Durham based visual artist). Recap video
  • 3/17/2018: VTDITC Park Jam featured muralists Icue (Atlanta) and Good Homie Signs (North Carolina) as well as Atlanta based DJ and MC Daytripper.
  • 4/19/2018: VTDITC vol 9: Gender & Hip Hop II featured Blair Ebony Smith (University) and Kyesha Jennings (NC State). Recap video
  • Fall semester 2018: VTDITC Studio Hours continued in MDS B. We altered hours to Fridays from 2 to 5 to better serve our community’s needs.
  • 8/23/2018: The Hip Hop @ VT Exhibit opened in Newman Library. This exhibit – which was created in collaboration with the University Libraries’ Course Exhibits Program – was on display on the main floor of Newman Library through nearly the entirety of the fall semester. Mural timelapse video
  • 9/20/2018: VTDITC vol 10: Intro to DJing & Fair Use – the Return consisted of a workshop by Craig and numerous VT DJs/students who also served as small group coaches. Recap video
  • 10/11/2018: VTDITC vol 11: Beat Battle & Music Production Workshop featured BeatsByJBlack (Northern Virginia based music producer) and was hosted by VT student Eric Luu. VT student SamWMTA won first place. Mike Abstrakt, a Roanoke-based high school student and music producer, took home second place. Recap video
  • 11/12/2018: VTDITC vol 12: Hip Hop & Mental Health featured Dr. Ian Levy (Manhattan College), Dr. Freddy Paige (Virginia Tech Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), Dr. Brandy Faulkner, and Emcee Lioness. 
  • 2/7/2019: VTDITC vol 13: Hip Hop & Interrogating Civility. This event, in collaboration with the Office of Student Conduct, took a critical view of the imperative of civility on our campus. Dr. Andrea Baldwin (VT Department of Sociology), Yolanda Avent (VT Community and Cultural Centers), VT student Juan Pachecho, and Dr. AD Carson (UVA) served as panelists. 
  • 2/28/2019-3/2/2019: 3rd Annual VT Hip Hop Appreciation Weekend took place. SOHHL, the Flowmigos, and VTDITC again served as co-sponsors.
  • 2/28/2019: VTDITC vol 14: Gender & Hip Hop III – the Return of the B-Girl. Graffiti artist Meme, dancer BGirl Macca, and Emcee Lioness served as panelists for this iteration of our seminar series. 
  • 3/2/2019: 2nd Annual VTDITC Park Jam featured muralists Good Homie Signs and Meme. Recap video
  • 4/7/2019: Black Cultural Center (BCC) Mixtape released. This collaborative project – the culmination of a semester and a half of work largely done during VTDITC Studio Hours – was formally released at a celebration at the BCC.
  • 4/18/2019: Words of the Prophets: Graffiti as Political Protest in Greece, Italy, and Poland. This collaborative program with the VT Department of English featured Dr. Jonathan Gross (Professor of English at Purdue University). He shared his research regarding the rhetorics of graffiti art. Good Homie Signs created a 4’ by 16’ mural prior to this event. It is now on display in the Department of English’s conference room (Shanks Hall 380).
  • 4/18/2019: VTDITC vol 15: Show & Prove. This event was an all elements open battle for local hip hop arts practitioners. Members of the Flowmigos won first place.
  • 8/2019: The VTDITC Leadership Board established our inaugural Advisory Board. The first Advisory Board consisted of Juel Downing (VT Class of ‘18 and original Leadership Board member), Dr. J. Rawls (DJ/producer and educator), Sum (MC), Emcee Lioness (VT Class of ‘07 and MC), Dumi Right (VT Class of ‘95 and MC), and Dr. Joycelyn Wilson (Assistant Professor of Black Media Studies, Georgia Tech).
  • ‘19-’20 Academic Year: Notably, the VTDITC Community Engagement Fellows co-designed and co-taught 45 media literacy workshops for the broader community. Roughly a dozen partner organizations helped facilitate these workshops.
  • 9/19/2019: VTDITC vol 16: Hip Hop & Race – What Hasn’t Been Said. This event consisted of small group discussions led by a team of moderators. 
  • 10/17/2019: VTDITC vol 17: Soul Sessions – Rebel Voices. This iteration of our seminar series was a collaboration with Roanoke-based open mic series Soul Sessions and celebrated of LGBTQ+ History Month.
  • 11/14/2019: VTDITC vol 18: 3rd Annual Beat Battle & Music Production Workshop. This recurrence of one of our most anticipated events was judged and hosted by Stimulator Jones (Roanoke based musician, DJ, and producer). VT student and music producer Prince Predator (VT Class of ‘21) won the battle. 
  • February 2020: Bobcat Studios Project. VTDITC was awarded a $3000 internal grant by VT’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology to create a recording studio and the culturally-relevant curriculum necessary to support it at Radford High School (Radford, Virginia). 
  • 2/20/2020: VTDITC vol 19: Intro to DJing and Fair Use III. This workshop was taught by UCLA Department of Africana Studies’ Lynnée Denise and focused on their research regarding the DJ as scholar.
  • 2/28/2020: VTDITC held a master class with legendary recording engineer Tim Donovan in Media Design Studio B. 
  • Mid March 2020: VTDITC Studio Hours transitioned to a virtual-only format.
  • 3/19/2020: VTDITC vol 20: Gender & Hip Hop IV’s original date. We rescheduled this event to 10/15/2020 and transitioned to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 3/21/2020: 3rd Annual VDITC Park Jam’s original date. We rescheduled this event to 9/19/2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 6/4/2020: VTDITC vol 21: Black Communities & the Police. This was our first virtual-only seminar series event and it transpired shortly after George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department. Community stalwart Dr. Brandy Faulkner kindly shared her expertise with us yet again.
  • Mid August 2020: VTDITC Studio Hours reinstated in-person programming in MDS B.
  • 9/17/2020: VTDITC vol 22: Hip Hop and Police Brutality. Our second virtual only seminar series event featured Dr. Brandy Faulkner, Dr. Ellington Graves (VT Office for Inclusion and Diversity and Department of Sociology/Africana Studies Program), Roanoke-based recording artist Macklyn, and Radford University Department of Social Work’s Dr. Deneen Evans. Panelists analyzed both current and classic hip hop songs as foundational texts describing instances of police violence. 
  • 9/19/2020: 3rd Annual VTDITC Park Jam – the Do-Over. North Carolina based artist and regular VTDITC collaborator Good Homie Signs created a 4’ by 16’ mural of the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim (or “That I May Serve”) outside of Newman Library. The mural was installed in Newman Library the following month. 
  • 10/15/2020: VTDITC vol 20 – the Do-Over: Gender & Hip Hop IV featured Dr. Shante Paradigm Smalls (St. John’s University). This event was our third virtual-only seminar series event. Dr. Smalls presentation focused on their research regarding queer hip hop historiographies.
  • 11/12/2020: VTDITC vol 23: Hip Hop Entrepreneurship II featured Stacy Epps (Atlanta-based artist and attorney). At our fourth virtual-only seminar series event, Stacy’s workshop focused on the steps necessary for aspiring artists to professionalize their creative practices.
  • 11/13-11/15/2020: Good Homie Signs created the Bobcat Studios mural (12’ by 24’) at Radford High School. 

IMAGES: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1RmesxfMPCqJjRDJmRPcYqDeBJxwsjVSs?usp=sharing