mtvU Fellows

From its groundbreaking programming to its educational campaigns, MTV knows well the power of music to transform lives in positive ways and bring people together in empathetic unity. With its Fulbright-mtvU Fellowships, MTV pairs these ideas with a music-centered academic exchange program.

The fellowships are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and mtvU, MTV’s 24-hour college network that reaches nearly nine million U.S. students. This year’s top candidates were nominated by Foster the People, J. Cole, B.o.B, and Diplo and the final selections were made by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. The 2012–2013 winners include two focusing on AIDS awareness.

Katherine Cloutier, a PhD candidate at Michigan State University studying ecological-community psychology, will travel to Barbados and partner with local musicians and dance4life, a global youth leadership movement, to help raise awareness about the prevalence of HIV among youth by investigating their use of music, dance and community-based performance as it relates to how it encourages youth advocacy and healthy sexual behavior.

Says Cloutier: “Music, dance, and theater provide a rich path for communicating information, especially among youth populations, as they may be more closely tied with youth language. Furthermore, such modes of communication may be better equipped for sensitive topics such as sexual health and HIV/AIDS. I believe there is certain knowledge, maybe embodied knowledge, which is best shared through expressive outlets. I also believe music, dance, and theater allow youth the opportunity to embrace their expert role on their own lives.”

Cloutier’s motivation is energized by many sources. “As an undergraduate I volunteered on a research project led by a graduate student. Her work on the sexual health of young Kenyan women was an inspiration to me and opened my eyes to the social issues that intersect with sexual health—for example, gender inequality, violence, sexual orientation. Her recommendation to read the book, And the Band Played On, is one that has definitely influenced my work ever since,” she notes. “I also attribute my motivation to a great friend of mine, Charlie, who is involved in HIV awareness and activism in Chicago. His energy never ceases to keep me dedicated.”

Sebastian Modak, who holds a B.A. in English and History from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also minored in Music and African Studies, is also mixing music and HIV awareness. Working with local NGOs and healthcare professionals in Botswana, he plans to form a collective of musicians in that country who are interested in fighting AIDS on the homefront.

Four years ago, Modak had studied abroad in Gaborone, Botswana, as an undergrad and, though he fell in love with the country, its people, and his life there, the newness of it all distracted him from thinking deeply about his experiences at the time, he shares. “I had some interaction with the HIV/AIDS community in Botswana through friends working in that space, but it was only after I left that I started asking myself questions about why an epidemic persisted even in the face of transparent democracy, a successful economy, and an all-too-rare rapid government response to the epidemic,” he says, now eager to return with “more questions than answers.”

A veteran drummer in two Boston-based indie rock bands, Modak will tap into the region’s vibrant pop music scene, whose core is a subgenre of hip-hop with roots in southern Africa called motswako. “What is…very compelling about motswako, as opposed to much more ubiquitous music scenes, is how small, connected and intimate the community is. There is so much room for growth and creative experimentation and it is much easier to become part of the community as an outsider. I hope that, through this project, I can not only elevate the position of motswako musicians—who, like artists the world over, struggle to turn their art into a career—but also spotlight the music’s social impact and share this dynamic, refreshing and extremely catchy genre with the rest of the world.” He plans on compiling a hip-hop album with musicians from Botswana and the U.S. as part of the project.

Modak is inspired by the possibilities that music offers: “I have always understood music to be a site of change, resistance, and inspiration. Hip-hop, specifically, has proven to be a universal genre of subversion—one that is never afraid to turn the status quo upside down if it is in the name of progress. I met and collaborated (as a drummer) with a lot of motswako emcees and producers the last time I was in Botswana and only scratched the surface of what they were really saying about their society. Knowing how hip-hop has manifested itself around the world, my intuition is that if there’s anyone unafraid of confronting any taboos or misinformation about AIDS, it is the country’s hip-hop musicians. On the other hand, if hip-hop musicians do not currently think/talk/rhyme about the country’s most pressing social issue, then that question is just as interesting.”

On mtvU and, the winners will share their experiences via video reports, blogs, and podcasts.

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