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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Appalachians

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are currently very relevant topics in higher education. Articles on this subject can be found in a variety of practitioner-based and scholarly articles including topics such as: teaching, sports, budgeting, alumni and giving, social justice, global leadership, professional development, human relations and more in higher education. However, have scholars and institutions of higher education taken in consideration how DEI looks in the context of Appalachia? The Appalachian region is a 206,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. The subregions include all of West Virginia and parts of 12 other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Forty-two percent of the Region's population is rural, compared with 20% of the national population. Figure 1 provides a visual representation of the Appalachian region in the United States.

Figure 1:

Note. Adapted from Subregions in Appalachian, by Appalachian Regional Commission, 2022.

The scientific community has just recently begun to research and recognize Appalachians as a separate ethnic group, with a subculture different from that of the rest of the United States. In fact, research is still lacking in areas such as: Appalachian counseling, culture, and geography. Appalachians continue to be overlooked nationally and politically in terms of the economic landscape. This is primarily contributed to the persistent poverty in the region. Appalachians also continue to be stereotyped by those outside the region. The most widely recognized Appalachian stereotype continues to be the term hillbilly. Created during the depression era and used widely by mainstream media, the hillbilly characterization was used to depict degenerates and the disorderly conduct of thousands of out of work Appalachian coal miners. The hillbilly also gives exploitive outsiders permission to misuse and abuse the inhabitants of the region.

The inhabitants of this region have changed dramatically since the 1920s. That begs the question, who are the Appalachians of the twenty-first century? To begin, the Appalachian region was first inhabited by Native Americans. Between 1890 and 1900, the Scotch-Irish, Italians, Polish, Slovakian, Croatian, Russian, and Hungarians began to move into the region. During the same time period, these cultural groups were joined by French settlers and Jewish retailers as well as African American descendants of slaves, railway workers, and coalminers. Appalachia continues to receive immigrants from China, Mexico, New Delhi, and the Philippines. It is the many cultures of this diverse region’s descendants that has influenced and altered over time creating an even more diverse Appalachian community.

This new historical diverse perspective of movement in the Appalachian region provides a better understanding of diversity. There is no doubt that the Appalachians are part of the U.S. However, scholars need to explore the inequities and comprehend what inclusion looks like in the context of Appalachia? Our research explored DEI in Appalachia using a qualitative methodology and case study research design coupled with indigenous methodology. The core of this research asked, how Appalachian leaders perceive themselves according to the global leadership phenomenon? The findings of the research revealed themes of: diversity, equity, inclusion and culture and biculturality within the Appalachian the region.

Appalachian and Diversity

Appalachia has had a long culture of diverse customs. Appalachians are bicultural including but not limited to inhabitants with African American, Latin, Native American, and various European backgrounds.

Appalachians and Equity

Appalachia has a historic trend of inequalities causing citizens to leave the region for higher salaries, education, health care and most importantly technological opportunities. Participants of this study perceived a lack of empowerment due to a general lack of broadband in the region which hindered businesses from competing on a global scale.

Appalachians and Inclusion

Appalachians are argued to be an indigenous population of the Appalachian region. There are three ways of considering Appalachians as an indigenous population:

1. Appalachians are described as indigenous victims of internal colonization by fellow North Americans.

2. Appalachians are described as indigenous by removing the Native Americans from the mindset and accepting European settlers as self-colonized.

3. Appalachians were indigenized by outsiders including the media and missionaries when they were assigned new identities separating them from the rest of national society, therefore, creating a sense of double otherness.

The findings of the 2021 study indicated the participants identified as Appalachian insiders or outsiders. Insiders, meaning born within Appalachian and having biological ties to the region. Outsiders, meaning born outside the Appalachian region. However, both Appalachian insiders and outsiders of the study perceived inclusion through participation and acceptance in the birding and outdoor recreation cultures of the area in which the study took place.

What does all this mean for scholars and institutions of higher education and organizations employing Appalachians? We recommend the larger community of non-Appalachians recognize Appalachian employees as minorities just like any other minority group. This group as represented by the many diverse cultures now present in the region have had a major influence on the formation of the Appalachian culture. Consequently, Appalachians should be treated with cultural sensitivity as students, leaders, and by the organizations where they work, get educated and are empowered to own their own global companies. We further posit that, Appalachians have for many years, used unique tools of activism and different strategies of leadership such as civic engagement and leadership capacity building. Finally, we embrace the ideas that, orientation and training programs be instituted in organizations and institutions of higher education to acknowledge that Appalachians should have a particularized way that they think and lead verses their non-Appalachian counterparts.

Co-author: Dr. Mandy J. Wriston, PhD, Owner - Appalachian Queen Consulting, LLC and Alumna, Indiana Institute of Technology, PhD in Global Leadership, Higher Education Administration Concentration.

Co-Author: Dr. Brenda C. Williams, EdD, Visiting Faculty, Indiana Institute of Technology, PhD in Global Leadership.



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