The Word: Tha Stanford Journal of Undergraduate Research Launched

The Word: Tha Stanford Journal of Undergraduate Research Launched

Image Caption: From left, Fíera!, DJ Lynnée Denise, and Fela Kutchii at The Word’s launch event. Photo by Tessa Brown.

Winter quarter got a whole lot brighter with the launch of The Word: Tha Stanford Journal of Undergraduate Research, an online-only journal that seeks to publish research on hiphop culture, happenings in the hiphop community, and provide mentorship to undergraduates marginalized by race, class, gender, and/or sexuality, as they participate in the academic practices of research, peer response, revision, and publication. According to its founders PWR lecturer Tessa Brown with undergraduates Hank Tian, Atlanta Rydzik, and TK Moloko, the journal will also serve as a space to center and amplify powerful student writing, and contribute to the vibrant hiphop community at Stanford, including those performing hiphop arts like spoken word and urban and hiphop dance, in addition to all the students who are DJs, producers, and MCs.

Tessa was motivated to create the journal after more than a decade of teaching with and studying hiphop. Her popular PWR 2 course, “Hiphop Orality and Language Diversity,” takes its inspiration from her greatest teachers— hiphop feminists, Black feminists, and women of color feminists, all of whom taught her to keep inviting, centering, prioritizing, and paying the most marginalized first, whether that is editors, writers, the people being studied or cited.

“Hiphop already motivates young people to do so much writing,” Tessa says. “Besides writing lyrics, young people are annotating lyrics on Genius, writing Wikipedia entries, writing on blogs and forums about their favorite artists, making their own art, incorporating hiphop themes in movies, tv, theater, dance, visual art. There is also so much fantastic hiphop scholarship in rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies.”

Tessa hopes this journal will help shift perceptions of hiphop so that more people, not just hiphop practitioners and scholars, can recognize it as “an incredible culture of literacy that motivates young people—literally thousands, hundreds of thousands of young people, marginalized young people all over the world—to write, develop digital literacy skills, expand their vocabularies, express themselves creatively through words, music, visual art, and movement.”

PWR’s Research and Community grants supported the development of the journal and made it possible to hire talented and committed undergraduates to help create the journal. Last year Hank Tian and Atlanta Rydzik were hired as founding editors and TK Moloko as business manager. The team worked all year, with help from PWR instructor Dr. Ashley Newby, (currently on leave) to study the institutional landscape at Stanford and figure out what publication processes and location would be most sustainable for the publication. Ultimately, they decided to move forward as a VSO with Tessa taking on an advisory role. New members joined the VSO this fall, and the group introduced their website at an event featuring California DJs Fíera!, Fela Kutchii, and Lynnée Denise on February 25.

 “Here at the journal, we define hiphop studies as ‘an interdisciplinary field of scholarly research into hiphop culture, including its traditional 5 elements of MCing, DJing, breakdancing, graffiti, and dropping science, as well as other artistic elements like fashion; film, tv, and theater; multi-genre writing across novels, theater, and web posts; and other expressive arts,” Atlanta says. “It can be thought of as an extension of the 5th element of hiphop culture, “dropping science” or “dropping knowledge.” 

According to Atlanta, centering hiphop, particularly in a way that is relatable and accessible to students, is integral to ongoing academic discussion and creative expression. “Hiphop discusses topics like gender, race, and politics in unique ways that can reflect the authentic experiences of marginalized voices,” they say. “Through this journal, I hope to cultivate some of that sentiment. Ensuring that our journal is a place where marginalized students can use hiphop to express who they are and their understanding of and relationships to the campus and society at large through visual art, performance, creative writing, and academic research is my top priority as a managing editor. Given everything that’s going on both on and off campus, I think it’s even more important that we are intentional with providing that space for students.”

Hank echoes Atlanta’s hopes for the journal. “I think that when you really break it down, hiphop is a means for marginalized people to find an expressive platform and be seen and heard. Hiphop is a genre/culture/mode of existence with a rich past and history, but also a present existence that continues to be more relevant than ever,” he says. “I think we wanted to find a way that we could also contribute to the livelihood of this field that is so active and conscious of our current time and lived experience. I hope we’re able to expand on that space and find another way on this campus for hiphop to truly thrive.”

The intended audience for this journal is undergraduates, young adults, and other fans and scholars of hiphop who want to read original thinking on hiphop culture that also reflects a critical feminist/gender lens. The team decided to create a blog space in addition to the academic journal, which will publish longer research articles. The intention is for The Word to be a place readers can visit regularly for new content, not just when a new issue is released. Currently submissions are only being accepted from Stanford students, but those parameters might expand in the future.

“Although we are a relatively small team, every staff member has huge ambitions for what this journal has the potential to become,” says Atlanta. “While we find our footing at Stanford, we also have a desire to expand our reach to students from all institutions of higher education. Hiphop is an international phenomenon with fans all over the world, and we hope to become part of that worldwide conversation.”

So far the submissions have been largely student papers as well as some multimedia content. Tessa notes that a lot of the submissions have focused on male artists, scholars and issues, often using a crucial critical gender lens, but the hope is that more womxn students and those studying womxn artists and citing womxn scholars will continue to submit.

“I’m personally really excited by all of the research papers we’ve received that explore genres, styles, and facets of hiphop that I’ve never read or thought about before in an analytical, academic context,” says Hank. “There are just so many things about hiphop that are fascinating and complex and truly worthy of study that people have barely scratched the surface of, and it’s exciting to see how students are helping push hiphop studies to new frontiers.”

The Word, however, is about the community that created it as much as it is about the product.

“This journal has become a kind of second home for me,” says Atlanta. “Our meetings center not only around writing blog posts, reading and editing student submissions, and planning events, but also as a check-in space amongst the staff. What ultimately makes the journal function so well is that all of us genuinely care about one another’s well-being and deeply value the individual skill sets and personal experiences that everyone brings.”

As a FLI student of color, Atlanta says that participating in these kinds of spaces has made them feel more at home and connected with Stanford.  “It’s also just really inspired how I approach my own research and participation in academia,” they say. “I really try and utilize the privilege that being a Stanford student affords me to center marginalized voices and issues, and I try to invest that same energy into the journal as well.”

Hank points out that his positionality as an Asian American working on the journal pushes him to consider his own privilege and complicity, and helps to inform his personal areas of interest and academic and artistic practices.

“I am always looking for ways to negotiate the space I take and create with intentionality and respect,” he says. “A big reason that I’m passionate about working on this journal is because it’s a way that I can decenter myself and use the privilege I have to try to make space for other marginalized voices and communities.”

As The Word makes its way into the larger Stanford community, the team remains committed to building the community that will serve it.

“I am so thankful for the amount of care people have put into things - not only on the journal itself, but also on making a space where we can comfortably and honestly check in with ourselves and one another,” says Hank. “I think that people do their best work when they feel comfortable, safe, and supported, and I’m glad that this journal has the potential to be another space where those things can be true for people.”

Be sure to check out The Word's Website: