Real Talk: Voices for Change

Gabi TunucciContributor

College campuses are open where important social movements start; students encounter new ideas, debate important issues, and think critically about the impact they want to have on the world. This is where education becomes action, and nobody recognizes this more than KC Councilor and his co-hosts on Southern’s “Real Talk” podcast.

“Real Talk: A Diversity in Higher Ed Podcast” was created in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, a tragedy that compelled colleges and universities across the country to address the problematic and systemic racism inherent in higher education. It was launched in October 2020 by the then-newly formed Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and was hosted then by executive producer Diane Ariza, vice president, Diversity and Equity Programs, and alumna Shanté Hanks.

For Season 2, the podcast introduced two new co-hosts: KC Councilor, professor of Communication, Media, and Screen Studies, and Jamil Harp, an alum who, as an undergraduate, pursued activism through his leadership roles.

In addition to teaching, Councilor is a cartoonist, who uses his comics to share stories concerning social justice issues, such as in his graphic memoir, “Between You and Me: Transitional Comics,” which describes his life experience as a transgender person. 

When the podcast began, Councilor was new to Southern’s faculty. Councilor, interviewed last semester, that hosting the podcast not only aligned with his own ethics, but it also seemed like a valuable opportunity to have important conversations about social justice and amplify student voices.

“It’s not to say that there was no activism on campus, because that’s not true. But there was a lot of stuff going on, and I’m looking around campus as someone who is new and going, ‘Why is nobody talking about this?’” Councilor said. “So, I was refreshed to be able to have a dialogue and a place to have these conversations, and then to bring that into the classroom.”

Councilor also said he believed the podcast could facilitate and re-frame these essential conversations.

“This can sort of break the ice and help create more of a culture of open dialogue on our campus, so I was really excited to be a part of that.”

Harp was initially invited as a guest on the podcast during its first season.

“I was on one of the episodes for student activism,” Harp explained. “Right before that podcast episode, I was actually going to be hosting the Black Lives Matter movement at our campus. So, I was there to talk about student activism, my role
as a student leader, how it has impacted me, what’s going on with Black Lives Matter, and how it is impacting black students. So, I came on as a student leader at the time.”

“When I was offered the podcast, I was excitedly nervous,” Harp recalled.
“I said yes because KC was doing it, and only because KC was doing it. In order to have real social justice conversations, you need a person you can trust.”

Still, having social justice conversations is something that Councilor and Harp recognized can be anxiety- provoking.

“At the beginning I was nervous because we’re having social justice conversations, and, you know, social justice conversations are typically under attack,” Harp explained. “They are. People are having huge screaming matches at The Board of Ed over critical race theory and what they think critical race theory is. So, when I thought about, ‘What is the ramifications of me having these conversations so publicly?’, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be accepted on a public platform.” 

Because of this common fear, Councilor and Harp emphasized that creating a safe space is crucial for having meaningful, honest discussions. They prioritize thoughtful conversation and curiosity rather than hostility. 

“It’s not just audio, it’s us,” Harp said. “We’re very keen on making a space that’s safe and allows people to express meaning. That’s what we do. We allow people to share their story and share what they’re working on.”

Councilor also explained that they considered each guest and their work individually in order to enrich discussion through new connections and discoveries.

“Whether we are talking to a bunch of students or people on campus, or we’re talking to somebody who wrote a book, or a community activist, we’re always trying to have slightly different conversations than what’s happening elsewhere in the media about an issue,” said Councilor. “We’re not NPR; we’re not trying to duplicate what anyone else is doing. But it’s sort of always a goal in my mind that someone we’re talking with is like, ‘Huh, no one’s ever asked me that before,’ or, ‘I never made that connection.’”

When Councilor and Harp began cohosting, “Real Talk” expanded the conversation about social justice in higher education by inviting a wide variety of guests with unique perspectives, from scholars who are professionals in their field to community activists pushing for change at the local level.

“It was a little different [at the beginning],” says Harp. “We definitely spanned social justice topics. However, we focused a lot on SCSU students and faculty. Since then, we have expanded our scope to talking with folks from other universities, other walks of life, people in the community, people across the country and even across the pond over in London.”

As the podcast’s audience grows, Councilor says that he hopes that students, professors and administrators involved in higher education will use the podcast as a resource for facilitating social justice conversations.

“We’re housed here [at Southern], but we’re having conversations and our audience is broad, so we have people listening at all different universities and using the podcast in their trainings or professors using it in their classrooms,” Councilor explained.

Councilor also emphasized accessibility as one of the podcast’s goals. He says that wants to break down academic topics that may otherwise feel confusing and help inform more people about social justice concepts.

“It’s also rare making things in academia accessible. So, we’re never talking above people’s heads. We’re having real conversations that anyone could listen to and get something out of, even though we’re talking with people with PhDs, sometimes,” Councilor said.

Alyssa Couture, a senior majoring in communication, said listening to the podcast has given her better insight about these complex issues.

“The podcast encourages students to ask tough questions, engage with real people and learn about complicated topics from multiple perspectives,” Couture said.

Councilor said that his partnership with students and alums breaks down some hierarchies in higher education, advocating for a space where professors and students can communicate and learn as equals.

“I think it’s rare to have professors and students on an equal playing field since there’s such a hierarchy in higher ed,” said Councilor. “I appreciated that.”

As Councilor suggested, a huge part of the higher education system is students themselves. He encourages students to get involved with the podcast and express their desire for more student guests.

“I do believe that the podcast is something that should be used by student voices if they do believe they want to be used on that kind of platform,” Harp said. “Students were important to us. We wanted them to listen, and we wanted them to feel heard. We also wanted them to be a part of our work.”

Once Harp departed from the podcast later last fall, other co-hosts included Kelvin Rutledge, associate vice president for Institutional Inclusive Strategies & Change Management; Alex Grant communication student; and Jess Holman, a graduate student in the Dean of Students Office.

The new, Season 6 of “Real Talk” began Monday, Feb. 6. Councilor’s co-hosts this season are: Zoe Pringle. psychology major; Saieda Lataillade-Lewis, psychology master’s student; and Danielle Campbell, sociology graduate student.

The “Real Talk” podcast’s impact shows that social justice topics aren’t reserved for administrators: students have a voice, and Councilor and his co-hosts prove those voices hold infinite possibility and power.

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