media release

PhD hypes hip-hop music for high-schoolers

June 09, 2014

Phong Kuoch, 
Dixon Tam, SFU media relations, 778.782.8742,


High-school English teacher Phong Kuoch’s love for learning has permeated his entire life. A career student, he hasn’t taken a break from school since kindergarten.

Growing up as a Chinese immigrant in a predominately white neighbourhood, the Vancouver resident learned early that education was the key to ending his sense of marginalization in a dominant culture.

After earning a bachelor of arts and professional development program certification as a teacher from Simon Fraser University, Kuoch went on to earn a master’s degree in education while working full-time.

He then spent two years as a faculty associate, working with student teachers in SFU’s International Teacher Education Program in Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, after a further five years of graduate studies, he is graduating with a PhD in education.

In his graduate theses, Kuoch explored his fascination with ideas involving race, culture, identity and social agency.

His master’s degree research studied how young people engage with race and humour to understand difficult socio-cultural concepts.

For his PhD, Kuoch switched direction to examine the hip-hop phenomenon and how it informs youths’ self-identities. It’s a topic that first piqued his interest at age 15 during an exchange trip to an all-black school in Atlanta, Georgia.

“This is when I first experienced hip-hop’s effect on the personal development and identity construction of teenagers,” says Kuoch.

He drew his research subjects from the Surrey high school where he teaches English, interviewing students involved in a rap group, hip-hop dance team and slam poetry event.

He discovered that through their engagement with hip-hop, marginalized students are empowered to portray alternate identities to better understand issues around racism and social agency.

Working full-time and studying hasn’t been easy, but Kuoch says his SFU experience has been invaluable.

“SFU has given me so much,” he says. “It afforded me the flexibility to be both a practitioner and researcher at the same time, making me both a better teacher and a better academic.

“I have this marriage with the university that I can’t seem to divorce myself from.”

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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