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Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones and Students Premiere “1619: The College Edition” Podcast with Spotify

Howard University Celebrates Spotify and Nikole Hannah-Jones' 1619 The College Edition stories Source: Latrel Caton

Podcast producer Spotify and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones debuted their “1619: The College Edition” podcast to a full crowd at Howard University on Wednesday, April 17. The podcast features episodes produced, edited and hosted by 19 journalism students. 

The three-episode series is derived from Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize-winning project, “The 1619 Project.” 

Hannah-Jones, who is a professor in the Howard University Cathy M. Hughes School of Communications and founder of The Center for Journalism and Democracy, guided her students in transforming The 1619 Project’s findings into a journalism-based curriculum. Each episode originates from essays written by students chosen for the podcast cohort. 

“This is such a big moment for my students,” Hannah-Jones said. 

“All the students have to write their own 1619 essay on whatever subject they wanted to write, then one day I get an email...from Spotify. The first thing I thought was ‘I would love to turn my students’ essays into a podcast that I could just hear.” 

The partnership is part of Spotify’s NextGen program that “infuses, activates, and grows podcast culture on college campuses” with resources provided by the Spotify Creator Equity Fund. 

“At a school like Howard, brilliance and talent live here like no other,” said Kristin Jerrett, Spotify’s equity, diversity, and impact and creator (DEIB) equity lead. “This exists in these students in a way that I have never seen through their writing and creativity.”  

With “The 1619 Project” as a framework, the student-led podcasts bring funny, fresh, and bright perspectives that invite young listeners to understand Hannah-Jones original topics from a collegiate-level lens. 

Professor Hannah-Jones opened up a world of what investigative reporting can be,”

Howard University professor Nikole Hannah-Jones and students Jacob Smith, Zoe Cummings and Trinity Webster-Bass discuss their work for The 1619 Project: The College Edition in a panel discussion.
Howard University professor Nikole Hannah-Jones and students Jacob Smith, Zoe Cummings and Trinity Webster-Bass discuss their work for “1619: The College Edition” in a panel discussion. (Source: Latrel Caton)

Student Panelist Discuss Their Podcasts

During the event, Hannah-Jones conducted a panel discussion with three students part of each episode: junior Jacob Smith, a film and television major; junior Trinity Webster-Bass, a broadcast journalism student; and Zoe Cummings, a sophomore journalism student. 

The podcast’s first episode, “Principles of Drip” by Cummings, discusses how the Black fashion trends of today originated in African culture before slave trade was established, specifically the Ashanti Tribe’s tradition of being draped in gold regardless of social hierarchy. The episode tackles how those traditions, and Jim Crow’s strict dress code laws during the Reconstruction Era, sport strong ties to Black culture’s affinity for fashion today.  

“Color Theory” by Smith, the second episode, discusses “racism’s ugly and pervasive child, colorism,” and its history as a divisive agent of white supremacy. Finally, “Queen Seminar” by Webster-Bass centers around the murder of gay dancer O’Shae Sibley at a New York City gas station, showcasing the range of lives, emotions, and experiences of the Black queer community. 

Zoe Cummings discusses her podcast episode in the 1619: College Edition project. Source: Latrel Caton
Junior journalism major Zoe Cummings expressed her thoughts about the inception of her episode detailing the connections of Black American fashion to slavery, while also paying homage to Howard University's rank as one of America's most fashionable campuses. (Source: Latrel Caton)​​​​​​

Cummings’ episode derived from her natural love for fashion and the trends of The Yard at-large that render Howard as the “drippiest college campus.” Cummings is also the author of the essay. 

“I saw all of these precedents and laws under Jim Crow where clothing was targeted too,” Cummings said. “If oppressors started banning clothing, that must mean something for our liberation...drip and fashion are tools of self-expression and that is liberating to show up as you are.” 

Smith discussed how colorism renders visual association with skin tones, a challenge since the audio-only format would only give way to testimony and research. He references historical and modern art such as Nina Simone’s “Four Women” and Spike Lee’s “School Daze” to depict earlier assessments of colorism. 

“How do we portray that in sound, in an audience experience?” Smith said. “Not only do we talk about the experience people have, but you try and show everyone listening [to] what we’re talking about. What I utilized was music. Music is telling stories, how a woman’s skin is ‘too Black’ or ‘arms too long.’” 

Webster-Bass says she understands the “connections between investigative journalism and the power of sound,” and how the two dynamics of journalism shine brightly in the podcast world. “Professor [Hannah-Jones] opened up a world of what investigative reporting can be,” Webster-Bass said. “Being part of this project has shown me how investigative reporting and audio recording connects.”  

Her “Queer Seminar” episode posed the task of telling a balanced, thorough history of the Black queer community, as reporting on homophobia triggered emotional heaviness. “Personally, I cried,” Webster-Bass said. 

“It was hard to listen to, to experience, to know that that was what the Black queer experience is like,” she said. “We saw the light at the end of the tunnel as the creativity of the Black queer community, and all they have to offer. That’s why we decided to end with ballroom.” 

Deanna Hayden, a third-year Ph.D. student in the school of communications’ culture and media studies program, served as Hannah-Jones' teaching assistant. Students thanked her as she noted how successful storytelling involves in-depth research and the use of historical guidance. “When it came to gearing these students in a project of this magnitude, it helped to understand where their stories lie, the basics of research as an academic and a communications scholar, and that grounded ourselves to tell a full narrative about each individual topic.” 

The entire Spotify 1619: College Edition Class at Howard University
Students of the 1619: College Edition podcast pose together at the conclusion of premiere: Avery Harrison, Cortneii Samuel, Danilo Wrightsell, Destinee Coburn, Hailey McMannen, Jacob Smith, Jada Wesley, Jasmine Camille Livingston, Jordyn Taylor, Julia Jones, Karys Hilton, Madison Belo, Nairobi Toombs, Noah Jackson, Zoe Cummings, Rachel McCain, Reinah McNeil, Trinity Kinslow, Trinity Webster-Bass. Deanna Hayden is kneeling below Prof. Nikole Hannah-Jones. (Source: Latrel Caton)

New York Times bestselling author and poet Jason Reynolds was one of several Black writers in the audience. “When we talk about... the continuum of Blackness, the only way we do that is through narrative,” he said, calling Hannah-Jones' work and Howard University “pillars” of Black American thought. “The HBCU circuit is a prominent part of our culture, but being known as The Mecca, it is important for us to have [The 1619 Project] discourse here.” 

To end the event, Hannah-Jones surprised junior Karys Hilton, a writer on the podcast project, a Spotify 2024 Next Gen Scholarship worth $10,000 for the 2024-2025 academic school year.  

“I am really appreciative of this scholarship,” Hilton said. “This was my first time in this class and it was very challenging but also very rewarding.” 

Karys Hilton poses with her parents, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Kristin Jarrett (Source: Latrel Caton)
Karys Hilton (center) poses with her parents (left), Prof. Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Kristin Jarrett of Spotify (right). The School of Communications class about The 1619 Project was Hilton's first time being taught under Prof. Hannah-Jones. (Source: Latrel Caton).