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Kyra Gaunt Is on a Mission

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portrait photo of Kyra GauntKyra Gaunt is a woman of many talents: a Baruch college professor, a songwriter, a performer, and an author. A native of Rockville, Maryland, Gaunt began her career in higher education in 1996. She came to Baruch in 2006 after teaching at New York University and the University of Virginia. Her areas of specialty are race, gender, and African American music — topics that she blends together in courses about cultural anthropology and black music.

As a professor, Gaunt teaches ethnomusicology and cultural anthropology. Her mission is to inspire students to become responsible, engaged adults. “I expect students to treat my class like a job. I want 100 percent participation. I want 100 percent attendance. I try to let each and every one of them know that there’s value in them being there,” she says.

Gaunt characterizes herself as a revolutionary thinker and doer. “I’m always trying to find something that’s not cliché,” she says. Her drive to think outside the box is what likely earned her a spot as a Fellow at the 2009 Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference. Sometimes called the “ultimate brain spa,” TED brings together innovators in areas ranging from design and science to music and film art. As a TED Fellow she is designing a project with the intriguing title, “Racism as a Resource (Agree to be Offended).”

Gaunt is featured in a short documentary ad by Nokia that shows how TED Fellows encourage others to respond to the world around them. Her spot focuses on an annual project called “One Laptop Per Class,” which was developed by freshmen in her anthropology courses as an offshoot to the larger “One Laptop Per Child” campaign, designed to empower learning in developing countries by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. "The premise of our project was simple, said Gaunt. "If every Baruch class donate[d] $10 or less per person, students could give back what they are getting — education. Last fall, we donated three laptops, at a cost of $199 each." The resulting video, shot on the Baruch College campus, features Gaunt and a group of students discussing the global benefits of the project.

Gaunt loves to sing, though it has been hard to keep up with on a full time basis. “It was my first dream,” she says. She has performed at several Manhattan venues and in 2007, she debuted her first CD, “Be the True Revolution,” at Joe's Pub. The title is taken from a poem written by Nikki Giovanni. Gaunt and a collaborator wrote many of the songs on the CD. “My songs are forms of human intervention, whether it's a love song I wrote after meeting my real father at 40, or a song about feminist politics,” she says.

In 2006, Gaunt’s first book was published. Titled The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double Dutch to Hip-Hop, the book illustrates how black musical style is learned through the games African American girls play early on. The Society for Ethnomusicology named it a co-winner of the organization’s prestigious Alan Merriam Prize in 2007.

This fall, Gaunt is writing an article about the musical relationship between Africans and African Americans at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem. She is also teaching a new course in Black Studies about the evolution and expressions of racism.