A passion for hip-hop studies and culture drives Ahmad Washington’s research and practice in counselor education, recognizing hip-hop for its therapeutic value. As an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Counseling and Human Development, Washington received a dual appointment with the Department of Pan-African Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2021.
He took time to talk with UofL News about recent career accomplishments, Black Studies and Black Educational Theory as areas of research, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of his work.
UofL News: It seems your career has expanded over the past year, including tenure, a dual-appointment, high productivity in publications – what is the force behind this success?
Washington: The dual-appointment with Pan-African Studies has allowed me to revisit both my academic work and the person I was when I entered my doctoral program. So, I tell a lot of folks that this dual appointment is really me being my most honest and congruent professional self. I went into my doctoral program deeply immersed in Black psychology and Black educational practice literature. I felt alienated because it sometimes seemed there wasn’t anyone in my department that tapped into that work and made the connection back to counseling. It feels rejuvenating to be back to where I started thinking about these issues whether they be counseling or education through the lens of Black peoples’ experiences. That’s what I am most excited about.
UofL News: Hip-hop doesn’t always seem like the most common area of research. Talk a bit about that passion and translating it into your academic work.
Washington: I went into my doctoral program already in love and infatuated with hip-hop studies and hip-hop culture. It never occurred to me during my matriculation that it could be an area of research. For me, part of being the researcher and academic I am today is an effort to ultimately develop a presence in counselor education that lives and breathes hip-hop and recognizes its inherent therapeutic value.
In terms of translating this work to practice – I knew hip-hop was therapeutic from the moment that I met it. It’s an epiphany to white school educators – like ‘wow, hip-hop is amazing and can be therapeutic.’ My question is, when has Black cultural production not been therapeutic? The frustrating part of this is having to convince folks of hip-hop as a discipline. The things that Black and Brown folks have been saying for ages is meaningful to their existence – we are just coming around to treating it as a discipline? It can be frustrating. I’m not doing anything innovative, this work has been going on since the 80s. But it is still difficult to find an accredited program with references to hip-hop culture.
UofL News: While the dual appointment is relatively new, how has it informed your work in the College of Education and Human Development and vice versa? How has it informed your teaching?
Washington: Pan-African Studies has so many ethical responses to the questions that are assumed to be asked in other disciplines. Critical race theory – the conversation that folks in education seem to have only just now showed up to – constitutes the core of what Black studies has been since its inception.
Take the Socratic method, for example. It is inherently problematic to associate the ability to do this pedagogical intervention to a man named Socrates, when there were folks doing it before he even existed. You can’t talk about the Socratic method and say you don’t engage in forms of white supremacy. So, this field is about creating basic and foundational courses that raise consciousness. There are things we do as teachers that we proclaim we would not do, but we do them because they are woven into the way we are taught to be teachers.
UofL News: Talk a bit about your work in schools throughout Jefferson County.
Washington: Most of my work has occurred at Central High School and the Academy at Shawnee. At Central, my work is with the Muhammad Ali Institute and the Muhammad Ali Scholars program. That program seeks to create a pipeline to our undergraduate programs.
I also co-developed and co-taught a course there called Hip-Hop Culture in American History. That was a rigorous and intense elective course. They were working through the same textbook that we would use for college students, and the course was the last period of the day. We had students signing up for that class even after the semester had begun. So, in terms of evidence of investment and engagement, that is meaningful.
UofL News: How do you see that developing in the future?
Washington: I have never relinquished the aspiration and the desire to contribute to the creation of a school counseling program that has hip-hop culture and pop culture as a core foundational ingredient. I think that’s meaningful and important, and it doesn’t exist in school counseling. There are programs and certificates that are related to hip-hop studies that show promise, so there are examples to prove that it’s viable.
UofL News: What makes the work we do at UofL distinct or unique from other schools across the country?
Washington: UofL’s Department of Pan-African Studies is one of the first in the region and the only degree-granting department in Kentucky. That’s impactful. Thinking about that and the possibility of contributing to that revitalization and history is something that makes our work unique.
Washington recently published a co-authored chapter in the book Antiracist Counseling in Schools and Communities by Cheryl Holcomb McCoy, released November 2021. His chapter entitled, “Decolonizing the Counseling Canon” was written alongside Janice A. Byrd, Pennsylvania State University and Joseph M. Williams, University of Virginia.