Staying Connected

A good community insures itself by trust, by good faith and good will, by mutual help. A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.    -Wendell Berry

By now, we all are aware of the tolls taken from being isolated from our social spaces, deprived of the ability to forge new relationships, the stress of Zoom fatigue, and the difficulty retaining new knowledge during the pandemic.

Despite the difficult year, I am increasingly grateful for the commitment of our student leaders as well as the the creative and inspiring space that our virtual meetings have been for the students in CASL (Community of Appalachian Student Leaders).

Students shared their own practices of maintaining resilience in a year of chaos: regularly going to the university gyms, being in nature, listening to music, lighting candles, getting back to the country. Spending time to understand our own identities and communities serves as a consistent and productive space of gratitude and validation.

Fellow Appalachian students meet biweekly to discuss a variety of topics related to the larger region and hone in on these relatable topics and how they have manifested in their own counties.

Most recently, the group screened the film Moundsville which focused on the rise and fall of a small West Virginia town during the ebb and flow of industry in the area. It was beneficial to learn and understand the nuances of local economies and the tension that rises when jobs leave the area. Some of the conversations stemmed around learning a trade vs. obtaining a higher education given the rising student debt; the social changes and cultural progress made through increased diversity through race, sexuality, and ethnicity and indigenous history in rural areas. Others critiqued the practice of extractive industries and their promise to bring jobs to an area in order to boost economies. The truth is that despite efforts to construct new buildings, and increase scholarships for local students, these corporations often employ those outside the area, adversely affect the housing market for county residents, and create changes that are unsustainable in the retail market.

A relatable discussion took place after screening the documentary, The Devil We Know, whose story also inspired the environmental horror in Dark WatersThese films discuss the devastating public health crises from the spill of DuPont chemicals which was poisoning the water systems in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Each meeting, we all learn more about the systemic ways that our local communities are affected by policy, industry, and economies. In turn, we appreciate the richness of our homes, families, oral histories, humor, and the abundance of natural resources where we grew up. During a time when Appalachian communities are often plucked for soundbites from outside journalists looking to understand national politics, it’s much more interesting and helpful to dive into meaningful and complicated conversations based on lived experiences.

The connectivity and affirmation are critical for making sense of the world around us. I continue to be in awe of the resiliency, compassion, and commitment to the greater good that these students convey and exhibit in their daily lives. It is an honor to advise such an impressive group and we’re looking forward to recruiting the next cohort as well as sending our seniors off later this spring. Thank you all for the commitment you make to yourself and each other.

If you are from Ohio’s Appalachian counties and/or would like to get involved to learn more, please sign up to learn more and to join us on our virtual meetings every other Wednesday! We’ll be waiting on you.

Lynaya Elliott, Advisor

CASL President in ASC spotlight!

Romance studies major wants to bring humanity back to medicine

Mackenzie Wright

Mackenzie Wright says the beginning of her story seems, at first glance, stereotypical: Once when she was a kid, a doctor told her she should go into medicine. After that it was all plastic stethoscopes, tiny white coats and the board game “Operation.”

But once she got to her junior year of high school, she started to seriously think about what she wanted to study in college. Although she was still interested in pursuing medicine, she realized she craved learning about other fields, too.

“Every college visit I went on, people kept telling me, ‘You can be pre-med and major in whatever you want,’” Wright said. “So I did.”

She knew she wanted to travel — and literature and languages had always come to her more easily than the sciences — so Wright went into Romance studies, learning Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. She picked up a medical humanities minor and still continued taking pre-med courses. Now a fifth year graduating in the spring, she’s been accepted to medical school and says she ultimately wants to join the military as a physician so she can use her languages and work with diverse populations.

“If I hadn’t chosen to study Romance languages, I never would have really figured out my path and why I want to be a doctor, and I might not have stuck with it through all of the hard pre-med classes and all of that,” Wright said.

Wright grew up in Chillicothe, a city in the Appalachian region of Ohio. When she got to Ohio State, she found herself facing students who didn’t understand her background and the accompanying challenges she experienced as someone from an Appalachian community, such as her school having fewer resources that translated into her having to catch up to fellow students from more affluent districts once she got to college.

“At first, I felt like my home that I loved so much had let me down and left me unprepared, but eventually I came to realize that where I’m from isn’t something to be ashamed of or just a barrier to overcome,” Wright said. “Despite the challenges and the stigma associated with coming from Appalachia, or rural places in general, it’s the places and the people that made me who I am. I still have a ton of pride for my hometown, and I prefer to see my background as a strength.”

If I hadn’t chosen to study Romance languages, I never would have really figured out my path and why I want to be a doctor, and I might not have stuck with it.”

She realized early on that she had her work cut out for her to get into medical school, but she didn’t let that didn’t deter her. Instead, she has excelled inside and out of the classroom, helping launch the Community of Appalachian Student Leaders, becoming the president of the student group Buckeyes for Ronald McDonald House Charities and volunteering at the Wexner Medical Center.

“Everything about Mackenzie stands out,” said Julia Hawkins, associate professor in the Department of Classics who taught Wright in the course “Medicine in the Ancient World.” “I have never had a student like Mackenzie. Mackenzie is timeless. She is so hungry for knowledge.”

A pivotal moment in Wright’s journey was a three-week education abroad trip  to the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. There, she studied the globalization of Maya country and researched traditional medicine and barriers to healthcare access for indigenous people. It was then that she began to recognize similarities between issues facing the Appalachian region and what she was researching in Mexico, like language and communication barriers and long travel times. Wright said she herself had to travel hours to receive medical care while growing up.

“I know they seem like very different things, studying abroad and speaking languages and being from a rural area, but they’ve taught me a lot of the same lessons,” Wright said.

Wright took the inspiration from Mexico back with her to Ohio and integrated it into her coursework, writing a paper in Italian about futurism, an art and sociopolitical movement in the early 20th century, and how it related to eugenics and fascism in Italy, where she also studied abraod. She’s working on a paper for a persuasive communication class about health disparities in Appalachian Ohio, and in her course with Hawkins, she wrote about how the Ancient Greek Hippocratic Corpus text Airs, Waters and Placesconnected to modern medicine and her own personal experiences.

“She instantly got that there was so much to be gained from understanding the history of medicine and medical ethics and the history between race and medicine and gender in medicine,” Hawkins said. “It was the best paper I’ve read in 10 years of teaching that class.”

Having a foundation in the humanities translates to Wright’s desire to become an empathetic, understanding doctor who strives to recognize and understand the challenges patients may face in accessing their health care, whether those are language and communication barriers, transportation issues or lack of internet access.

To reach that goal, Wright made sure to apply to medical programs that celebrate diversity in all forms, from diversity in thought and background to racial and ethnic identity, which she’s deeply valued as an undergraduate at Ohio State.

“There’s nowhere else I could’ve studied what I did and still felt prepared enough to apply to medical school and get in,” Wright said. “My favorite thing about Ohio State is really the diversity of opportunities here, and that people are so passionate about what they do, whatever that may be.”

This story was featured in College of Arts and Sciences News on December 3, 2019. Original article at 

Cunningham Scholarship – Application Open!

Dr. Patricia Cunningham

In order to reward Appalachian students who have excelled academically and become leaders at Ohio State, CASL along with the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, have created a scholarship fund in honor of Dr. Patricia Cunningham to further her pledge of increasing access to higher education for underrepresented students. Dr. Cunningham was a three-time graduate of Ohio State University and the founder of the Appalachian Project Ohio which focused on pathways to education for Ohio State’s Appalachian students. She tirelessly worked to break down barriers for students to obtain a college education and pursue their endeavors beyond.

A scholarship of $1,000 will be awarded for the 2019-2020 academic year. Applications will be reviewed based on academic merit and commitment to student leadership. Undergraduate students from the Appalachian region in any major are encouraged to apply by March 31, 2019 online at

*Note: students must be enrolled at the Columbus campus full-time for both semesters to be eligible.

A very special thank you to the following donors whose support made this scholarship possible!

Community of Appalachian Student Leaders

Four Winds Community

Dr. Megan Chew

Lynaya Elliott

Rishona Headen-Brown

Dr. Jason Marion

Steven May

Dr. Amy Shuman

Julie Vargo

Brooke Walters

Dr. Shannon Winnubst



Join our Appalachian Network on LinkedIn

We were thrilled to have Megan Miller from Buckeye Careers Network join us to talk about job strategies, careers exploration, and the importance of professional networking. The hidden job market makes up approximately 80% of the jobs which means that through personal and professional networks, opportunities are filled without ever being advertised to the public or without interviewing candidates from the applicant pool.

One of the values across experiences that we share as Appalachians is our commitment to community. We want to continue to build upon our mutual appreciation and connection with the area.

Please take a moment to join our OSU Appalachian Network on LinkedIn

We hope you’ll use this network to post opportunities, allow students to inquire about your experiences as they explore careers and just to stay in touch with those from your neck of the woods.

OSU Students Head to Jackson and Gallia Counties

During Spring Semester, three students and one staff member from Community of Appalachian Student Leaders visited Gallia Academy in Gallipolis and Oak Hill High School.

The student panels met with sophomores, juniors, and seniors and gave a very thorough overview from the application process to adjusting to Columbus metro to learning new academic approaches. The high school students had a lot to ask and were appreciative of our panelists who answered with thoughtful and helpful guidance.

It was clear that the participants enjoyed hearing about these undergraduate journeys from their home counties to OSU and they were enthusiastic about thinking about becoming a future Buckeye!

It was also so fun to learn about the personal connection and history of the region on the way down! A special thank you to Alex Brumfield, Amber Gilliland, and Kasey Arrowood for planning this fulfilling event.

“A Dose of Home” Digital Story

During Autumn 2015, Dr. Cassie Patterson led an independent study class and developed a digital story showcasing Malachi (Ki) Pulliam’s relationship to his home in Bainbridge, Ohio.

You can learn more about the class and project here.

If you are an Ohio State Student and would be interested in creating a digital story about your home, email Laura Thomas at

How “having an accent” works

Kathryn Campbell-Kibler

My last post talked about accent discrimination and how it impacts people’s lives. In the US, “having an accent” vs. “not having an accent” is a strange but powerful set of ideas that are based on beliefs about people, not about anything measurable or objective in speech. A lot of my research is about how “having an accent” works.

In a recent study, I played voices to listeners and asked how accented they sounded. The same listeners also reported how accented they thought different places in Ohio were, generally speaking.

We wanted to know whether people who thought a place was accented (they “believe” more in that accent) gave ratings that were more dependent on specific acoustic features found there (they “hear” the accent). We found that accent “believers” also gave actual voices high accent ratings, regardless of pronunciation. Some people just think there are a lot of accents out there! But mostly if someone thought that, for example, rural Ohio has a strong accent, they weren’t more sensitive to the specific way that someone pronounces the vowel in “shoes”, which can be different for some speakers in rural Ohio vs. urban or suburban Ohio.

The two exceptions, where “accent believing” people were a little more sensitive, were the two features that people sometimes talk about and have names for: how northern Ohioans sometimes say the vowel in “cat” differently than central Ohioans (people might talk about “Cleveland a’s” or say “Akron” in a distinctive way to refer to it). People who thought northern Ohio has an accent seemed to be a little more sensitive to this pronunciation than others. The other exception was the pin-pen merger, found in many rural parts of Ohio and also throughout the US South and its diaspora areas. Someone with this feature pronounces words like pin and tin and words like pen and ten so that they sound the same. We found that people who thought rural and southern Ohio have an accent seemed more sensitive to this pronunciation.

We learned from our study that mostly the idea of an accent (like thinking southern Ohio is a place where people have accents) isn’t associated with having a “good ear” for accents. Only features that are themselves talked show any link between the two, and it’s very small. That suggests that thinking someone else has an accent is less about hearing them talk, and more about how you’ve heard them talked about.

Kathryn Campbell-Kibler is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics who work focuses on sociolinguistics and whose interests include language variation, with an emphasis on the role of the listener in variation; language and sexuality; language and the construction of masculinity; and the role of language in the formation and performance of identity.


Care and Caring: It’s an Appalachian Thing

Kay Halasek

Care. This is the sentiment I recall most clearly, the memory most palpable to me as I reflect on my years living in Flatwoods, Kentucky, and the now nearly forty years my mother has continued to live there since I left to go to college in Georgetown, Kentucky, and later graduate school in Arizona and Texas. Such a memory of care, philosopher Nel Noddings tells us, is integral to the ethic of care that springs from “natural caring,” those acts motivated not by duty but by a desire to “act on behalf of the other because we want to do so” (“An Ethic” 699).

I found my sentiments about the care that permeates and defines relationships in Appalachia echoed by Kendall Bilbrey, a native of Wytheville, Virginia, who is quoted in the “Millenials Return” page on the “Saving Appalachia” website: “‘The people I met [when in college in the greater Washington DC area] didn’t have the same sense of caring and support and neighborliness that people back home did’ Bilbrey said. ‘I never thought of that as an Appalachian thing.’” Like Bilbrey, I never thought of the sense of caring I experienced in Flatwoods as a teenager as “an Appalachian thing,” either. It was just how people were. It is, though, I’ve come to realize, decidedly and perhaps uniquely an “Appalachian thing.”

Flatwoods—a town of about 7500 residents located just to the north and west of Ashland—is more affluent than most comparably sized Appalachian towns such as Pikeville, due in part, I imagine, to its proximity to the Ohio River and affiliations with historically strong regional steel, coal, petroleum, and railroad industries. But like Pikeville and other smaller towns in eastern Kentucky, Flatwoods (and neighboring Russell) is a community whose citizens are actively involved in their churches and volunteer organizations. It has its share of evangelical and Pentecostal churches as well as mainline Christian denominations and a growing LDS community. The churches—along with area social service agencies and organizations—collectively comprise a network of what Noddings terms communities of care (“Language” 54), institutions that support “carers” (those who give care).

I was reminded of my own deep personal connections with Flatwoods and Noddings’ concept of an ethic of caring this past June when my mother suffered a stroke. At the hospital and rehab facility, she was in the hands of professionals (many of whom are natives of the area) who embodied Noddings’ concepts of receptivity and relatedness, who enacted caring as a relationship through their attentiveness to her (“Language” 53), not simply as an obligation imposed on them by their professions. Although by early August my mother was back in her own home and by the end of the year driving again, the stroke had put her in the hospital for several days and then in rehabilitative care for nearly eight weeks. During my mother’s hospital stay, my family and I were able to be with her, but as the summer progressed, our visits to her at the rehab center were limited to only three or four days each week. And after her return home in August and the start of the fall semester at OSU, our trips became even less frequent and limited to a couple of days (at most) on occasional weekends.

Although our trips became less frequent, the attentions of my mother’s neighbors and friends were unfaltering. Karmen and Jim had her over for dinners. Doug still puts her paper inside her storm door each morning and takes her trash to and from the street each week. Denny plows her driveway—as he has for years. Roger and Toni bring over soup and help with home repairs—and Roger built the ramps that lead to her front door. Peggy and Leon (backdoor neighbors from the 1970s and 80s) bring in Meals on Wheels. She is surrounded by care and carers. These folks’ gestures of care are second nature, common (in the sense of familiar and ordinary), done without flourish. They’re not instances of “paying it forward.” They do not anticipate return or repayment. Caring is not a contractual exchange or transaction. These folks are not stockpiling good works against some anticipated future drought or meager harvest, times when they may be in need. They simply tend to others.

I do not myself conduct research in Appalachian studies, but Noddings provides me a means through which to reflect with my own sense of care on my life and relationships and those of my mother. Noddings’ concepts of natural caring and an ethic of caring provide me the means through which to characterize just one element of this Appalachian community and her people.

My mother, Erma Halasek Slavens

Kay Halasek

Kay Halasek


Kay Halasek is an Associate Professor in the Department of English whose research specializations are rhetoric, composition and literacy. 


References Advameg, Inc., 2016. Web.

Noddings, Nel. “An Ethic of Caring.” Reprinted in Ethical Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2013: 699-712.

Noddings, Nel. Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print.

Noddings, Nel. “The Language of Care Ethics.” Knowledge Quest 40.4 (2012): 52-6. Print.

Weisser, Ryan. “Saving Appalachia.” 17 March 2016. Web.

Barbara Kopple Visits OSU

Our community in the Appalachian Project is still buzzing from our inspiring visit by the two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Barbara Kopple, after her visit to OSU’s Columbus campus this week.

Several groups partnered with us to host a special screening of Harlan County USA to a packed audience in the Wexner Center’s Film/Video theater on Wednesday, March 2. The crowd enjoyed the musical accompaniment by David Morris, who provided some of the original music for the documentary, along with his son Jack Ballangee Morris, which included the classics such as “Which Side Are You On?”, “Coal Tattoo” and “Dark as a Dungeon”. We also had a special sneak preview of Jack’s new song, “West Virginia Refugee.” Kopple screened her film and then engaged the audience in a Q&A session. During the discussion, people asked about what Harlan County is like today (especially the role that coal plays in their economy), how the UMWA was faring, and how making the film impacted Kopple’s life and art. A number of audience members were from the region, related to coal miners, or were labor activists and scholars from the community and university.

On Thursday, graduate and undergraduate students engaged Kopple on all aspects of documentary filmmaking, including individual advice about getting their own projects in motion. Students also had the opportunity to view her latest documentary film, Shelterwhich tells the story of military veteran homelessness.

If you were unable to join us for the event, don’t worry! Video from the event will be housed in The Appalachian Project Collection at the Center for Folklore Studies Archives.

David Morris and Jack Ballengee Morris perform before the screening.

David Morris and Jack Ballengee Morris perform to a packed house before the screening.

David Morris, Christine Bellengee Morris, American Indian Studies Program Director and Faculty in Arts Admin, Educaiton and Policy, and Matt Schneider

David Morris, Christine Bellengee Morris, American Indian Studies Program Director and Faculty in Arts Admin, Educaiton and Policy, and Matt Schneider

L to R: David Morris, Matt Schneider, Appalachian Project Student with Barbara Kopple

L to R: David Morris, Matt Schneider, Appalachian Project Student with Barbara Kopple

L to R: Lynaya Elliott, Appalachian Project Member, David Morris, Barbara Kopple

L to R: Lynaya Elliott, Appalachian Project co-facilitator, David Morris, Barbara Kopple

A special thank you to our sponsors for the event:

This event was organized by The Appalachian Project, Ohio (a collaboration between the Center for Folklore Studies, the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Student Life’s Department of Social Change), and co-sponsored by the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy; American Indian Studies; Wexner Center for the Arts; Comparative Studies; Film Studies; the Department of English; the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise; and the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

There’s no right way to talk

Kathryn Campbell-Kibler

Group discussion at Appalachian Project meeting.

Group discussion at Appalachian Project meeting.

Accents or dialects are one of the most important ways that people signal belonging to a place or a community. For some people, though, including many from Appalachia, these marks of belonging can also prompt unfair judgements from others about everything the speaker’s intelligence to their personality.

Language bias is often treated differently than other kinds of discrimination. Many people who pride themselves on their open-mindedness make an exception for language, calling themselves the “grammar police” or bragging about their “language pet peeves”. The idea one often gets is that disliking how someone else talks is a good thing because it shows knowledge or education.

The reality is that there’s no objective right way to talk. More than that, judgements about “incorrect” language forms can’t be separated from bias about the people who use those forms, because that’s where they come from. Language researchers have have lots of evidence that the speech you like best (or least!) comes from your opinions of speakers, or from years and years of other people’s opinions building up. Some work has even suggested that what you think about a person can influence how you hear their speech. For example, Donald Rubin and his colleagues have shown that a face (Asian-appearing or white-appearing) can change how students hear a lecture. Students seeing the Asian-appearing face not only thought they heard an accent that wasn’t there, they understood less because of the accent that wasn’t there!

In the US, people who grow up in communities where many people use speech called “uneducated” or “incorrect” may follow a few different paths. They may speak the ways they hear around them because they don’t interact with “correct” speakers often enough to fully pick up their patterns. Some people who do have that access may stick to their communities’ way of talking on purpose, rejecting the negative label put on their speech by others. This can invoke costs, like not getting a job or being targeted for jokes or criticism. Others may shift to higher-prestige ways of talking, consciously or unconsciously adapting to the pressure. Some will develop two “voices”, allowing them to code-switch as needed. Learning to code-switch sometimes develops easily and naturally, and sometimes takes a lot of work, depending on the individual and their experiences.

All of these responses are understandable, and we can’t really say which one is right or wrong for a given person. But we can say that one thing is wrong: the idea that the speech found in Appalachia is inherently incorrect, lazy or uneducated. It’s just not accurate, and it hurts people.

Some linguists have been working to support speakers from marginalized communities learn more about their speech and push back against stigma. Check out these resources for more information:

Kathryn Campbell-Kibler is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics who work focuses on sociolinguistics and whose interests include language variation, with an emphasis on the role of the listener in variation; language and sexuality; language and the construction of masculinity; and the role of language in the formation and performance of identity.



[1] D. L. Rubin. Nonlanguage factors affecting undergraduates’ judgments of nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants. Research in Higher Education, 33(4):511–531, 1992.

[2] D. L. Rubin and K. A. Smith. Effects of accent, ethnicity and lecture topic on undergraduates’ percep- tions of nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14:337–353, 1990.