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.

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.


Dangers of “damage-centered” research

Lynaya Elliott

When you think of Appalachian stereotypes in the media, it’s not surprising that those outside the region may point to images of boarded-up store fronts, aerial views of dented mobile homes, and rusty automobiles. Last year, The Guardian published a four-part series, America’s poorest white town: abandoned by coal, swallowed by drugs, one of which focuses on high rates of obesity, drug addiction, and post-coal economic devastation in Beattyville, Kentucky. Area spotlights like these often do so with the goal of shedding light on economically-depressed areas in order to leverage resources for these communities. However, what toll does it take on a community when the national spotlight portrays it as damaged? It’s not news to me that my hometown faces economic challenges or that my community is struggling with the grip of opiates on our loved ones, but that isn’t all that comes to mind when I think of home.

For Appalachian communities, we’re no stranger to these stereotypes of poverty in the media beginning with the hordes of journalists that flooded the hollers of Eastern Kentucky in 1964 when President Johnson used the region as a high profile symbol to gain support for his War on Poverty. Images of rickety shacks, coal-dust covered faces of miners, and barely-dressed children flashed on television screens across America.

President Johnson on his 1964 poverty tour. (Cecil Saughton/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

President Johnson on his 1964 poverty tour. (Cecil Saughton/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

What does it mean when our communities have no control over how our stories are told and what images are used to convey them?

In 2009, Eve Tuck, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at State University of New York published an open letter for communities, researchers and educators to consider long-term results of “damage-centered” research. Speaking of her own Native community in Alaska, she explores the effects on a people when we begin to “think of ourselves as broken”. She takes on the ethics of research and cautions those who do work in disenfranchised communities to reconsider the effect their roles have on these groups. (Tuck, p.422). Referencing communities of color, indigenous people, and those living in poverty, she distinguishes that while research may addresses the social and historical factors that shaped this disparity, without the context of colonization and racism at the forefront, “all we’re left with is the damage”. Tuck suggests that through a framework of desire, communities can recognize our sovereignty and cultivate the vision and wisdom of our communities for a collective movement forward implying damage-centered research stalls progress (Tuck, p. 417)

Rewriting the narrative about Appalachia is not an easy job. We must rethink our roles in research especially when we grapple with the insider/outsider effect and attempt to find solutions for it. We must ask what steps can we can take to ensure a mutually-beneficial goal for both the research and the community it hopes to serve? How can we better work with experts from within the communities to shape the questions we ask? What effects will the data have on our subjects?

But part of rewriting the narrative is letting our communities speak for themselves. We must support the work of people like Roger May, a native of West Virginia, whose work Looking at Appalachia focuses on redefining the images of the region. He accepts submissions from people in the Appalachian region and collectively exhibits these works to portray, more accurately, the cultural richness and complexity that can be found in our home counties.

Tuck’s letter was especially empowering for me to reiterate the importance of increased involvement of Appalachian students and faculty in higher education including leading those research efforts in our own communities. Our complex lives are ones of both damage and desire and who better to tell the story than those of us who have climbed these hills?

Brien Vincent. 6/18/2014. Rural Action Watershed Restoration AmeriCorps member Rand Romas leads a pond study as part of the KEEN summer camp at Lake Hope State Park near McArthur in Vinton County, Ohio.

Brien Vincent. 6/18/2014. Rural Action Watershed Restoration AmeriCorps member Rand Romas leads a pond study as part of the KEEN summer camp at Lake Hope State Park near McArthur in Vinton County, Ohio.

Andrea Morales. 09/03/2014. Jacksonville, Athens County, Ohio Labor Day Parade

Andrea Morales. 09/03/2014. Jacksonville, Athens County, Ohio Labor Day Parade

Stephen Speranza. 3/15/2004. Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Stephen Speranza. 3/15/2004. Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Lynaya Elliott is Department Manager for the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also serves as one of the program leaders for the Community of Appalachian Student Leaders and a co-facilitator for The Appalachian Project. 



Tuck, Eve. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review 79.3 (2009): 409-427.

McGreal, Chris. “America’s Poorest White Town: abandoned by coal, swallowed by drugs.” Guardian US, 12 November 2015. 20 December 2015.


Film Screening of Harlan County USA with Barbara Kopple

Harlan County USA
Wednesday, March 2, 2016 – 6:30pm to 10:00pm
Film/Video Theater, Wexner Center for the Arts
Join us for a screening and discussion of Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), a documentary account of the 1973 strike of Kentucky mine workers. The screening will be followed by a musical performance by David Morris, who provided some of the music for the documentary. Kopple will discuss aspects of documentary film-making as well as her current project,Shelter, which examines homeless veterans and features music by David Morris and his son, Jack Ballangee Morris.

This film documents the 1973 strike of Kentucky mine workers when Duke Power acquired the Eastover Mining Company and refused to honor their union contract in the United Mine Workers union. Kopple photographs the picketing, the company’s use of state troopers and the showdowns between the miners and the strikebreakers during this riveting documentary.


Kopple produced and directed Harlan County USA and American Dream, both winners of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  In 1991, Harlan County USA was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and designated an American Film Classic. Harlan County USA was restored and preserved by the Women’s Preservation Fund and the Academy Film Archive, and was featured as part of the Sundance Collection at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005. The Criterion Collection released a DVD of the documentary in 2006.

Kopple has been awarded the Human Rights Watch Film Festival Irene Diamond Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, the SilverDocs/Charles Guggenheim Award, New York Women in Film & Television Muse Award, the Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Award, the Woodstock Film Festival Maverick Award, Women in Film & Video of Washington, DC Women of Vision Award, the White House Project’s EPIC Award, the International Documentary Association Career Achievement Award and the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, Filmmakers Trophy & Audience Award.  The Paley Center for Media has named Barbara a 2007 “She Made It Honoree.” She recently served her tenth year on the board of trustees for the American Film Institute and continues as an advisory board member for the American University Center for Social Media and Independent Feature Project’s Filmmaker Labs.  In 2010, Barbara received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from American University.  She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Director’s Guild of America, New York Women in Film and Television, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and actively participates in organizations that address social issues and support independent filmmaking.

If you require assistance to attend either of these events, please contact Afsane at

Student Workshop

Thursday, March 3, 2016 – 10:00am to 12:00pm
The Collaboratory, The Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise
RSVP to Afsane at if you would like to attend the workshop.

Join us for a student workshop with Barbara Kopple, who will discuss her lengthy career as a documentary filmmaker, focusing especially on the production of Harlan County USA, which documents the 1974 strike of mine workers in Kentucky, and her newest project,Shelter, which focuses on homeless veterans. Kopple will talk with students about creating her own film company, Cabin Creek Films, being a woman in the film industry, the ethics of documenatary filmmaking, and filmmaking as advocacy.

This event is 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; Wexner Center for the Arts; Comparative Studies; Film Studies; the Department of English; and the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise.

Photo courtesy of Criterion Collection at