Howard University collaborates with Spotify to create “1619: The College Edition” podcast

By Ariyana Griffin 
Special to the AFRO

Howard University partnered with Spotify to host a listening session April 16 on the Washington, D.C. campus to highlight the launch of “1619: The College Edition” podcast,  in which students unpack what they have gleaned from their study of “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” under the direction of its author, Pulitzer Prize winner, Emmy winner and investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Kristen Jarrett, Spotify’s lead on its equity, diversity and impact team and its NextGen program, explained that the collaboration between Spotify and Hannah-Jones flourished from an unsolicited email.  

“Believe it or not, it was a bit of a cold email to Professor Hannah-Jones to see if she was interested in collaborating, and she said yes. From there it was listening to her and what she was interested in doing with her students,” said Jarrett. “We allowed her to guide us in terms of what she wanted to do, and then it was working with her students, delivering equipment and providing guidance.  From there we were able to co-create this beautiful piece of content. I say co-create very loosely; her students really created this podcast and we were just happy to be a part of supporting the process.” 

Spotify’s program NextGen provides students with the resources and support they need to activate and grow podcast culture on campuses. In the past, the program has been on Spelman College’s campus as well as other universities such as New York University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California. NextGen is supported by their Creator Equity Fund, which seeks to “uplift creators who have historically been underrepresented in the audio industry.”

At the April 16 event, Spotify also presented a $10,000 scholarship to sophomore journalism major Karys Hylton, one of the students who participated in the course and in the development of the podcast.

Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones (upper left corner) poses with students involved in producing “1619: The College Edition” podcast on Spotify. (Image courtesy Instagtram/ nikolehannahjones)

The course that Hannah-Jones teaches at Howard University, where she is the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, is titled after her award-winning book, “The 1619 Project.” Students who take the course and study the material are required to write an essay taking a deep dive into history on a topic they pitch and get approved.

Those essays then were developed into the student-led podcast. Three episodes were produced by students working in groups under the topics, “Principles of Drip,” “Color Theory” and “Queer Seminar.” The series allowed Howard students to “apply their own unique lens to what they learned from studying the 1619 Project and make surprising, compelling and critical connections to the ways that slavery still impacts their lives and ours,” according to a description of the podcast.

Hannah-Jones shared that she was excited for the opportunity to partner with Spotify and give her students the opportunity to dig deeper into history and share what they’ve learned.

“The podcast is based on the basic formula of the ‘1619 Project,’ which is that slavery in its legacy is shaping our society in all of the ways that we don’t think about,” said Hannah-Jones. “I hope it leads us to ask more questions, to think deeper about the way we treat Black people, the way that we think Black Americans are, and that we have a better understanding of ourselves, and that people who aren’t Black have a better understanding of us.” 

She explained that most of the students had no previous script writing experience, but they all were dedicated to producing something the world could learn something from. 

“When they came into the podcasting course, most had never written a podcast script, had never done podcast production, had never actually done the type of reporting that I required,” said Hannah-Jones. “I made them interview scholars, I made them find archival clips. They had to produce ambient sound. There were elements that each podcast had to incorporate.” 

She said she believes each student walked away with new reporting skills and an ear for audio narrative. 

Zoe Cummings, a sophomore honors journalism major and Spanish minor, said when she saw the “1619”  course offering, she didn’t know what it was but she knew that she would learn and grow under Hannah- Jones. And, she took away an important lesson.. 

“I realized for the first time that I was learning how to be American,” she said. “I was learning how to hold my Blackness in one hand and my Americanness in another and understand that the two things aren’t that different. And professor Jones gave me that.”

Cummings, who produced the “Principles of Drip” episode, shared that the episode was important because she originally wrote the essay it was curated from. “Drip,” in urban vernacular, refers to something or someone that is “cool,” is stylish or has a high element of “swag.” It is a quality she strongly associates with her D.C.-based campus and HBCU students in general, she said.

“When it was time to create this into a podcast we had to bring it to the yard; we had to bring it to Howard Homecoming; we had to bring it to y’all,” said Cummings. “I don’t know about y’all, but I have never seen anyone more ‘drippy’ than a Howard University student.”

Jacob Smith, a junior television and film major with a minor in theatre arts stage management, worked on “Color Theory” as an editor. The episode takes a look at colorism in the Black community and its roots.

 “What we really wanted to do was dive into the innate biases that even probably some at this school had, and talk about how those biases and those beliefs, this ideology comes from an institution of White supremacy and slavery all throughout,” said Smith.

“Queer Seminar,” produced by Trinity Webster-Bass, a junior honors podcast journalism major and Afro-American studies minor,  is a combination of two essays: one based on discrimination against queer individuals and how it dates back to slavery; and the other on the origins of ballroom culture. The podcast highlights O’Shea Sibley, a 28-year-old queer man who was murdered after performing “voguing” – a highly stylized dance which grew out of the 1960s Harlem ballroom scene, in which dancers mimic fashion models’ poses – at a Brooklyn gas station. The students were able to interview and feature one of his best friends, who was there that tragic night. Through the trauma that lies within the community, the podcast and students also wanted to highlight its beauty.

“We wanted to show all the creativity, all the love, all the passion that exists within the Black queer community,” said Webster-Bass. 

Hannah-Jones expressed that she was so excited to be able to provide resources like this to her students. 

“This is why I came to a place like Howard to be able to work with students and help them get these types of resources,” she said.

“The NextGen partnership with Spotify is so important because we know that HBCUs have no lack of talent, no lack of ambition, no lack of brilliance. These students are some of the hardest working students in America,” added Hannah-Jones. “What they often lack is resources. They’re often overlooked. They don’t often have this—the type of connections to corporations. They don’t have the type of dollars to be able to, for instance, create a podcasting lab on campus or to have access to those types of courses.”

The event allowed the audience to hear some clips from the episodes as well as hear from the students and their creative process. Spotify gifted everyone who attended bluetooth mics to help support those who are interested or want to get into audio or content creation. 

Spotify NextGen is looking forward to continuing the expansion of  the program across more HBCU campuses in the future. Listeners can find the podcast on Spotify by creating a free account and searching for “1619: The College Edition.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *