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Petitioning Provost, Radford University Sam Minner and 1 other

Reinstate RU's Appalachian Regional and Rural Studies Center to Proper Facilities with Accord, please see attached letter from the Appalachian Studies Association

November 5, 2013

Dear President Kyle and Provost Minner:

As the Appalachian Studies Association’s president (2013-14), I am writing to share the Association’s grave concern regarding the unannounced expulsion of Radford University’s Appalachian Regional and Rural Studies Center (ARRSC) staff and materials from their offices; we implore you to return them as soon as is possible to offices suiting the stature and importance that the Center and its affiliated programs and faculty have demonstrated over the last nineteen years.

Since its founding, the work done by the ARRSC has been a model of how to effect positive change in Appalachia, especially as regards its work with cultural and ecological preservation and innovation as well as educational and community outreach, to say nothing of the consistently high level of scholarship and leadership demonstrated by its faculty and students.

The Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) is an organization with 837 members, most of whom live and work in Appalachia, but our membership spans the globe.  Our membership includes faculty from nearly every discipline, health care professionals, artists, community organizers, students, and many others.  What brings such varied group together is ASA’s mission is to “promote and engage dialogue, research, scholarship, education, creative expression, and action among” our members “to foster quality of life, democratic participation and appreciation of Appalachian experiences regionally, nationally and internationally.”  Indeed, many of those who have brought ASA to fruition since 1977 teach or have taught (or have been or are students) at your school.

For instance in 1987 (the year the organization officially became the Appalachian Studies Association), our president was Radford’s Grace Toney Edwards and our conference, which was held on Radford’s campus, was chaired by Parks Lanier, Jr.  In 2004, our annual meeting was again held on your campus under the thoughtful guidance of then president Melinda B. Wagner while the conference (which over 900 people attended last year) was chaired by Parks Lanier.  Furthermore, one of ASA’s Weatherford Awards (regarded by university presses and Appalachian authors as the most prestigious book award) is named in honor of Grace Toney Edwards for the significance of her life’s work.  But I would be remiss to ask that you reinstate the ARRSC in proper facilities unless I provide evidence of the significant difference they make to Radford University’s educational mission.  

Allow me to start with a story: I am also Director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College, where we receive visitors from all over the world.  Just last week, I referred a visitor to the McConnell Library’s Archives and Special Collections’ site that keeps streaming video from the Highland Summer Conference, which contains talks and performances from thirty years of Appalachia’s best writers and thinkers, many of whom have no other videos available on the web.  Indeed, the photo featured on the collection’s website is of Marilou Awiakta, a Cherokee poet at the 2007 conference at Radford, whose work inspired the Farm at Selu.  Let me illustrate the significance of this poet and Radford’s connection with her.  A few years ago, I was teaching an Appalachian literature course in West Virginia when the Upper Big Branch Mining disaster happened, killing 29 minters and permanently disabling two. One of those two was the great-uncle of a student my class, and she modeled her final project on Awiakta’s work of healing and reconciliation.  Today I have that project—a woman breathing out corn, reseeding the world—in my office. Without the resources at your university, her project could not have been as richly realized.

I have written extensively about the history of Appalachian literature and education, and again, Radford University’s ARRSC was a core component of that piece (which is now up for publication at the University of Illinois Press), particularly as regards the long work of the Assembly of Literature and Culture in Appalachia and their magazine ALCA/Lines (in which a master’s student of mine published an essay about using literature to affect student personal efficacy).  Similarly, for the essay mentioned earlier, I tabulated all BA, MA, and PhD theses and dissertations on Appalachian literature, and Radford University was at the top of the MA list, and its graduates, such as Jim Minick, have gained national publication.

As those of us who run Centers know, having a stable and long-term home where resources and people can gather is essential to running a strong set of programs with a broad reach.  A center is a place to meet, to plan, and to learn.  Centers that work well are not disembodied, but their facilities serve as homes and foundations for the dynamic work that arises therein.

I have touched on a number of the ARRSC’s programs that I have had personal contact with, but I can only hint at the depth and importance of those and other programs, including your faculty’s publications in and editing of defining Appalachian Studies texts such as A Handbook to Appalachia: an Introduction to the Region (University of Tennessee Press, 2006) which was edited by Grace Toney Edwards, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky Cox.  I imagine a review of your faculty’s yearly reports would yield a list of publications, presentations, and projects far longer than this letter could hope to hold.

In the end, no Center is for itself, but each serves the campus and community.  Like the value that African American Centers add to universities and colleges around the nation, the awareness and work fostered by the ARRSC adds not only to the quality of life of those who study Appalachia and the communities they affect, but everyone on campus—no matter their discipline or demographic—benefits as varied local cultures and the students associated with them find themselves in dialogue with the decisive tools of learning that your university offers.   

Thus, it is with all urgency that we (myself, those who have co-signed this letter, and the Appalachian Studies Association) urge you to recognize and value the work being done at the ARRSC.  Such a worthy Center deserves quality facilities where such endeavors can continue.

We look forward to hearing from you and your decisions on this matter.

 

With Sincere Hope, 

 

Dr. Chris Green

President, Appalachian Studies Association

This petition was delivered to:
  • Provost, Radford University
    Sam Minner
  • President, Radford University
    Penny Kyle


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