Appalachian stereotypes focus of panel today

By Rebecca Sweeney

Frayed overalls, floppy-brimmed hats, corncob pipes, missing teeth and feuding clans of the Hatfield and McCoy families are all stereotypes of people from Appalachia, said Ron Pen, director of Appalachian studies.

“Historically, it was important to stereotype hillbillies in this way in order to distinguish and marginalize them as non-white people,” said Pen, also the director of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music.

A panel will discuss those stereotypes and other issues facing the region in “Talk from Appalachia” tonight at 7 in the Student Center Small Ballroom. The panel discussion, part of the Diversity Dialogues series, was created to build respect for Appalachian students, faculty and staff at UK, said Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of Student Diversity Engagement.

Diversity Dialogues is a series of discussions held throughout the year that explore topics of race, ethnicity and diversity as a whole.

Tonight’s event, sponsored by the Office of Student Diversity Engagement and Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs, is an opportunity to discuss the region that is located a few hours from Lexington and supports the infrastructure of UK’s campus, Pen said.

“The landscape and the cultural mix have nurtured a special heritage of history and culture built upon the people who settled this land,” Pen said.

Alan DeYoung, professor of educational policy studies and evaluation, said most people do not know most of their energy and food come from rural places.

“Much of America looked a lot like places in the mountains in terms of values, life cycles and labor until the 20th century,” DeYoung said. “The Appalachian heritage is a mainstream American one.”

Gurney Norman, an English professor and member of UK’s Appalachian studies faculty, said the myth of Appalachia’s separateness from mainstream America is 100 years out of date.

“Most people in the mountains are as industrious, skilled, capable, intelligent, educated and modern as any of the regions of North America,” Norman said.

Becoming familiar with a region different than their own offers students a view on places outside of what they know.

“The regional view can be the starting place for a worldview,” he said.

Patrick Nally, a marketing and integrated strategic communications junior, said students should learn about other cultures and experiences from students, faculty and community members.

“It doesn’t matter what job field you are going into or what city you live in. This global and inclusive style of thought comes with major benefits that will help you manage through tough situations with people different from yourself,” said Nally, the marketing associate of Student Diversity Engagement.