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Travis L. Gosa

Assistant Professor


Dr. Travis L. Gosa is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University, where his research and teaching focuses on hip hop culture, educational inequality, and African American youth. He also holds faculty appointments in the graduate fields of American Studies and Education, American Studies, and is affiliated with the Cornell Center for the Study of Inequality. His first book, School of Hard Knocks: Hip Hop and the Fight for Equal Education (Illinois University Press), explores how schools fail black students and why hip hop can help fix education in America. He is the co-editor of The Hip Hop & Obama Reader (Oxford University, 2015), the first hip hop anthology to center on contemporary politics, activism, and social change. His most recent work has been published with peer-reviewed journals Poetics, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Teacher's College Record, Popular Music and Society, and the Journal of American Culture. Dr. Gosa writes regularly on race, politics, and popular culture for national media outlets like The Washington Post, USA Today, The Root, Fox News, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has previously appeared on NPR’s Tell Me More and All Things Considered. In 2015, he filed a Supreme Court brief in support of a high school student punished for posting a rap song that drew attention to complaints about sexual harassment. The Bell v. Itawamba County School Board amicus brief was signed by an array of leading hip hop artists, including T.I., Big Boi and Killer Mike.

Since 2009, Dr. Gosa has served on the advisory board of Cornell's Hip Hop Collection, the largest archive on early hip hop culture in the United States. In addition to co-organizing the 2011 “Born in the Bronx Hip Hop Symposium”—a two-day event featuring academic panels, concerts, and community outreach—he acquired a major grant to create the digital archive of prints by Bronx photographer Joe Conzo. He also served as the faculty sponsor of Cornell’s “President Barack Obama Visual Iconography Collection,” an important teaching and research resource for understanding modern campaign strategies and political mobilization.

Dr. Gosa received his Ph.D. in Sociology from The Johns Hopkins University in 2008, along with a certificate in Social Inequality. He is a member of the American Sociological Association and The International Association for the Study of Popular Music. He holds memberships in four honors societies including Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Pi Sigma Alpha, and Alpha Kappa Delta.

English - fluent; French - reading and research proficient



  • Africana Studies and Research Center
  • American Studies Program

Graduate Fields

  • Africana Studies
  • Education


Professor Gosa conducts interdisciplinary research on racial inequality, education, and popular/youth culture. He utilizes qualitative sociological methodologies including historical archives, interviews and focus groups, and textual and sound analysis. His books, peer-reviewed articles, and essays transverse the following substantive topics: hip hop culture, racial discourse, educational inequality, curriculum and pedagogy, black families, mothering, social media, electoral politics, and activism.

Broadly, Dr. Gosa’s research examines the social and cultural worlds of African-American youth. His work explores how black youth confront unequal systems of power, pursue educational and familial excellence, and redefine the meaning of democracy. By demonstrating how hip hop can be used to address the black-white gaps in academic achievement or to mobilize voters, for example, his work seeks to unsettle culture-of-poverty models that blame black youth culture for social problems.

In School of Hard Knocks: Hip Hop & The Fight For Equal Education (University of Illinois Press, forthcoming), Gosa uses hip hop to examine and reframe the unrelenting educational crisis facing African American and urban students. While “pull-up-your-pants” and “the fear of acting white” has become the language of national debates about black students, the book reveals how many of hip hop’s salient lyrical, thematic, and organizational features can be understood as responses to the problems of neoliberal schooling, including irrelevant curriculum, uncaring teachers, unfair punishment, and crumbling infrastructure. Building on the emerging field of hip hop-based education, School of Hard Knocks goes beyond critical pedagogy to show what’s wrong with k-12 and post-secondary education, and how we can fix it.

In The Hip Hop & Obama Reader, Gosa provides the first systematic, scholarly analysis of the complex relationship between hip hop and politics in the era of Obama.  He invites readers to reassess how the historical narrative of Obama’s presidency continues to be shaped by the voice of hip hop and, conversely, how the voice of hip hop itself has been shaped by Obama.  Drawing on a variety of methodological approaches from some of America’s most distinguished scholars, journalists, and activists, The Hip Hop & Obama Reader critically and unromantically assesses hip hop as an agent of social and political change, both now and in the future.  Throughout the volume, the cultural work of music is contextualized by in-depth discussions of shifts in the socio-political landscape, such as the neoliberal turn, the recent economic recession and resulting joblessness, mass-criminalization and incarceration, and global protest movements.

Currently, Gosa is working on his third book project. Tentatively entitled Straight Outta Neoliberalism: Hip Hop & The Surveillance of Black Imagination, the book will examine how state divestment from public education and the safety net has corresponded with massive investments in the surveillance and criminalization of black political speech, art, and music. Through focused case studies on surveillance against black academics, hip hop artists, incarcerated populations, and the #Black Lives Matters movement, the project will reveal how radical thought continues to be suppressed in the post-Obama era.



The School of Hard Knocks: Hip Hop & The Fight For Equal Education. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Forthcoming.

The Hip Hop & Obama Reader (co-edited with Erik Nielson). New York: Oxford University Press. 2015.

Bell v. Itawamba County School Board (amicus brief filed with U.S. Supreme Court). With Erik Nielson, Charis E. Kubrin, and Michael Render. New York Times. December 21, 2015.

“The Fifth Element: Knowledge.” The Cambridge Companion To Hip Hop. Justin Williams (Ed). Cambridge University Press. p.56-70. 2015.

“Counterknowledge, Racial Paranoia, and the Cultic Milieu: Decoding Hip Hop Conspiracy Theory.” Poetics. 39(3), p. 187–204. 2011.

“Not Another Remix: How Obama Became the First Hip-Hop President.” Journal of Popular Music Studies, 22(4), p. 389-415. 2010.


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