A college radio station serves many unique niches. UConn’s own 91.7 WHUS welcomes students and community members to launch alternative talk and music programs. It’s an outlet for voices that would otherwise go unheard. Cultivating those voices, and offering a strong one of her own, is WHUS training director and DJ Alyssa Hughes.
“I feel different when I make music,” Hughes, a senior journalism major, said. “I feel so in control. You’re like a different person, a better version of who you are, whenever you’re writing or recording. It’s a voice that gets inside you.”
Hughes hosts “Wake Up America” on 91.7FM every Tuesday at 10 p.m. She’s frequently joined by her friend and fellow music lover Jordan Williams. She kicks off every show with J Dilla’s “Glazed.”
A listener would describe the music as hip-hop, soul and R&B. Hughes would agree, but for her the selections are richly personal as well.
“I wanted to play my mom and dad’s songs,” Hughes said. “She would stay up late cleaning while listening to Maxwell’s ‘Fortune.’ She loved R&B. My dad loved straight rap.”
Hughes projects a seemingly invincible positive attitude and a contagious energy. When she trains aspiring disc jockeys, she talks like she’s inviting them to participate in music as something that is wildly fun while also precious.
“It’s the person that you are and person you secretly are,” Hughes said. “Music is personality and it’s love.”
Music is central to Hughes’ view of herself and connection to a larger community.
“Often black children have the same dream, and it’s to be a rapper,” Hughes said. “People make fun of that sometimes, which I think shows they don’t understand. For so long we had our voices taken away from us, and rap was something that was ours. Hip-hop was a hope that we could make change and make our voices reality in the streets.”
Hughes has written her own original raps since high school, originally with her sister. Last year, she rapped on the stage of the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts with A$AP Ferg during the Student Union Board of Governor’s spring concert.
“It was a taste,” she said. “I had a chance. I got to see the crowd and people that believed in me. You never know what that feeling is before, and when you get it you can’t describe it.”
On UConn’s campus Hughes led a rap cypher group, an active workshop club designed to facilitate original artwork. She took it as a chance to leave behind musical voices after she graduates later this year.
“I don’t want music, or hip-hop or the cypher to die out on campus,” Hughes said.
Her show works toward similar ends. It’s natural, for Hughes and Williams, that the music of “Wake Up America” flows into broader discussion of race and identity.
“It’s about social justice, it’s about blackness and it’s about soul,” Hughes said of her show.
Between songs, Hughes and Williams talk at length about ongoing local and larger issues. Tuesday they discussed the ScHOLA2RS House learning community, available exclusively for black men, to begin this fall. The pair shared their concern about articles comparing the new learning community to historical segregation.
“Those comments hurt,” Hughes said.
“Those mindsets hurt,” Williams added.
They discussed the disparities in graduation rates between white students and black students, while also acknowledging that a program exclusively for men would naturally leave out many people, particularly black women, who face similar disparities.
“We’re not biased because we’re black; we’re biased because we’re human,” Hughes said. “We think every student deserves the opportunity to learn if they’re paying to be here.”
For her own part, Hughes tries to recruit a diverse range of voices for WHUS.
“Being training director, I can help get students of different backgrounds,” Hughes said. “I’m one of four African Americans on the executive board. I think when people see others that look like them it helps get them involved. And I want to get people of all different backgrounds and tastes in music.”
Hughes sees music as having a potential for clear positive good. Most of her music selections fit with brightening attitude.
“I like to play music that makes people feel good,” Hughes said. “There are some negative perceptions of what hip-hop is. I wish more people could hear this music.”
After a mic break, the studio’s light bulb flashed, showing a caller coming through. Hughes answered and listened with a huge smile.
“I can say at the end of every show that this was my favorite show,” Hughes said.
Chris McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.