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upac Shakur is alive and well. That's right - he's among the living. But you won't find him in a recording studio or on a movie set. Nope. He's hiding out in a classroom. In Wyoming, of all places.

More than 70 students at the U. of Wyoming are keeping Shakur's memory alive with a little help from Omowale Akintunde, director of Wyoming's African American Studies program. Akintunde teaches a three-credit course that focuses on the rapper/actor, who was murdered in 1996. His goal? To make students aware that every culture is important in its own right and that cultural icons are valid topics for academic debate.

"The class gets pretty heated sometimes," says senior Kalim Underwood. "But our open discussions are always interesting and informative. No one is cut down for their thoughts, and any time we speak, the class opens up for support, challenge and retaliation."

In addition to participating in class discussions, each week students are required to write a two-page critique that includes their perceptions of Shakur's music and movie roles as well as their own accomplishments and struggles in appreciating the viewpoints of others.

"We use Tupac as a metaphor and as a tool to investigate important issues in society," Akintunde says. "This is a class that looks hard at racism, poverty, the contemporary urban-African condition and the role of white supremacy."

Akintunde started the class last spring after hearing about a similar course that grad student Arvand Elihu created last fall at the U. of California, Berkeley.

"When I was a high school junior," Elihu says, "my cousin tried to get me to listen to Tupac, and I was like, ‘Tupac? Throw that guy in prison. It's all a bunch of rap bullshit.'" But nowadays Elihu is singing a different tune - he says Shakur wasn't a criminal thug but a poet, someone who will help define a generation.

"Tupac is an excellent primary source of what life is like in our time, and his lyrics are the evidence," Elihu says. "By studying what he was telling us, "we can look closely at ourselves and figure out how we can more effectively understand each other."

By Darin Painter, Ohio U.

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