He plans to tie his knowledge of hip-hop into his interactions with students.
"I've always been interested in hip-hop, I grew up with hip hop -- it's always been a part of my life," Callahan said.
A 1992 graduate of Cartersville High School, Callahan said he often found hip-hop -- a genre of urban music born in South Bronx, N.Y., in the 1970s -- to be an escape from the stress, as well as the boredom, associated with teenage life. However, when he began working on his Ph.D in educational psychology at UGA, he was introduced to a larger hip-hop culture than was found in early 1990s Cartersville and later as an undergraduate at the University of West Georgia.
He said the context of the music, primarily the lyrics, remained the same as he ventured into college life. Callahan said despite negative stereotypes surrounding the genre, such as violence and sexism, he has found much of the content to be positive and life affirming.
"I would just pop the headphones in and hear whatever I needed to hear, whether they were words of encouragement, something to embolden in me, or something to help me forget about what was going on, hip-hop did that for me," Callahan said. "I began to wonder if other students did the same thing -- how they use hip-hop or if they used hip-hop at all -- and if they did use it, what things they learned from it and what did it do for them.
"That's where my research started."
The title of his dissertation was "21st Century Mojo: The Cultural Production of Hip-Hop among Bright, Black Students at a Predominantly White University in Southeast United States."
"One of the common themes that drew [African-American students] together as a collective was exclusion -- whether exclusion from university culture, the mainstream, predominately white culture, or some students felt excluded from the mainstream black culture," Callahan said. "Sometimes there's a misunderstanding that black people are a monolith, that we're all alike, and 'because you all look alike,' we should all get along and that isn't the case, and so there were some students who were black who just felt they didn't fit in with the black people [at UGA] and so I gravitated toward hip-hop because not only were there black people who look, thought and felt like me, there were white people and Asian people and Latino people, people of all ethnicities who came together under this flag of hip-hop and [exclusion] is one of the things that drew them together."
Over time, Callahan found the hip-hop culture in Athens and was a part of it as it evolved and grew.
"Athens is a hub for independent music ... so when I got here around 2000, 2001, I would go downtown and I would see fliers for maybe spoken word or a M.C. (master of ceremonies) battle, something that was hip-hop related and these fliers were appearing more frequently, which was something I'm not used to," Callahan said.
He included in his study the founder of one type of hip-hop event in particular in Athens -- the cipher session.
"You get people [to the session] and one of the rituals is to pass around incense and when you get the incense you had the floor you could recite a poem, say a rhyme, freestyle or just say whatever is on your mind and then you pass the incense to the next person," Callahan said. "It began with about five people and over the course of time, it grew to 20, then 30, and at one point there were 75 people in his tiny apartment."
As the sessions grew, Callahan said the collective began to book venues in Athens as a means to draw more of the university to the movement.
Along with the community aspect of hip-hop, Callahan said he found a spiritual side which includes hoodoo -- a predominantly African-American form of folk magic. The term "mojo," mentioned in the title of his dissertation, is a magical charm bag used in hoodoo.
"Hoodoo and those types of spiritual practices are something that black people, and some white people, had to let go of over the course of time because holding onto that type of thinking and practices, or what they call 'superstition,' was anti-thematic to being accepted into the mainstream, so holding onto that -- that was something superstitious people did, so we had to let go of that and over time it fell to the wayside," Callahan said.
Growing up, Callahan said some of these aspects remained in the African-American community.
"I would still see older men, like your older uncles and grandfathers in the community, would go into their pocket to give you change, they always had a pocket full of change, and in that change I always would see a couple of things -- a jack knife, or a penknife, and they had these little small things like buckeyes or what they called conka root, and they always had these things and these were people in church or very distinguished people in the community that held onto these kind of things," Callahan said.
He again noted the broad spectrum of hip-hop, with some of the lyrical content being criticized as detrimental to society while some content has been praised and considered positive.
"So looking at that and looking the language and some of the folk ways of black people, and some white people too, I began to see the connection between the power of words and their intentions and how they can harm and heal somebody and I made that connection to hip-hop," Callahan said. "You have the harm and the help and the healing through hip-hop and that's the connection I'm making.
"Just like hoodoo is used to conjure spirits, hip-hop does the same thing."
For more on Callahan's philosophy, read his journal article at http://gct.sagepub.com/content/35/3/197.abstract.