Yesterday’s conversation between sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson and rapper Nas captured the attention of the student body with a truly dynamic exchange in Gaston Hall. While the thrill of hosting a popular music artist added a new dimension to the traditionally political and academic guests who speak in Gaston, the university’s support of unfamiliar cultural leaders is also a manifestation of Georgetown’s often-touted advocacy of pluralistic worldviews.
In 1994, Nas released “Illmatic,” one of the most prominent debut albums of all time that permanently changed the genre of hip-hop. His record, which addressed the intersection between politics, faith and drug culture, two decades later remains a catalyst for discussing these issues. Going forward, this intersection between culture and academia ought to be an important complement to Georgetown’s sometimes overly traditional approach to education.
Educational institutions tend to produce a self-serving ideology that sometimes suggests that the only people who are worth listening to and learning from are individuals rooted in academia. Bucking this tendency is part of what made Nas’ appearance so exciting. Inviting the rapper to speak on the same stage that has been offered to presidents and prime ministers is a laudable recognition. Georgetown has proudly recognized that artistic endeavors are comparable to what is classically considered appealing on Gaston’s stage.
The university should continue to enable proactive engagement with cultural figureheads who can serve as lightning rods for new kinds of learning, academic engagement and empathic understanding.