My definition of sustainable community in my current discipline of Media Studies in the College of Education at Appalachian is wrapped up in my journey of coming to know the High Country through various very separate contexts of life. Having had the experience of moving away and then returning, my perceptions have been those of an insider and outsider of the community at large. I have also experienced the University from the outside, as well as the community available to a student and an instructor.
My first understanding of the community of Boone came through my time as an Undergraduate student in dance and anthropology at Appalachian. The University offers artistic and cultural opportunities to students at almost any given moment of every day if you take the time to look around and make yourself aware of them. When I graduated, I never took the time to truly connect to the local community, so when my connection to the University was removed, I was left with the impression that there is a giant void of similar opportunities in the community outside of the University.
In 2010, I moved back to the High Country with no intention of staying. I had recently spent a year in NYC and Seattle, and I was sure that the community of Boone could not offer the same rich diversity of cultural experiences. I was determined to make a quick stop, and then make my way back to New York City: which I’ve always considered an ideal place for finding key requirements of what I feel essential to a sustainable community.
As happens to many people, it only took me a few days to fall in love with the environment of the High Country once I was here again, hiking, swimming, breathing in the mountain air. I stayed in Boone for a graduate program and
now remain as a teacher, and slowly my awareness of the creativity, vitality, and rich community experience of the High Country is also expanding. The University states on its own FAQ page, “Our beautiful setting in the Blue Ridge Mountains is more than a location – it profoundly shapes how our community lives, works and learns together. Our commitment to sustainability is a tradition, not a trend, and Appalachian is an active steward of North Carolina’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources.” (Appalachian 2016)
While I believe there is work to be done, I’m happy to now know that many efforts exist that have corrected or are working to correct this duality of experiencing the High Country as a University participant or a local. This can be done many ways, but a few efforts that I have noticed include:
- Seeking to offer places for connections (ex. HOW Space, Service-Learning Projects, Summer Dance Series)
- Offering similar opportunities to individuals in the community not connected with the University (ex. Verge Dance Collective, Extension courses, Ascent Business Network)
- By inviting students to participate into the community at large (ex. Internships with local organizations, joining CSAs, yoga communities)
- By bringing in diverse cultural experiences for both the University and the greater community to expand connections and understandings of the world outside of the High Country (ex. Schaefer Center Summer Series, Diversity Celebration)
This big picture of the work being done in the High Country to create a more sustainable community shapes my ideas about what is important to do in the future, and what is already being done, to accomplish the same goal for the Media Studies Department.
If the community of Media Studies students and faculty is a sustainable one, those students that participate in the community will come away from their time in the program truly understanding the wider application of the skills they’ve gained.
Students are currently able to do creative story-telling projects in many mediums that cause them to seek out new understandings of clubs, artists, cultural events, departments, faculty, and so much more that they wouldn’t otherwise explore.
Simply by the nature of the projects and the faculty’s focus on telling stories, the Media Studies Department serves as a tool for building sustainable community through building a sense of place and creating opportunities to celebrate and explore local culture. Of course it is our desire to do more than just give them the tools, we want to help give the students access that they need to be curious and engaged citizens in their future communities as well.
In Sustainable communities: Building for the Future, the Office of Deputy Prime Minister discusses that a sustainable community, in addition to other key requirements, has “A diverse, vibrant and creative local culture, encouraging pride in the community and cohesion within it” as well as “A sense of place” and “The right links with the wider regional, national and international community.” (ODPM 2003:5)
Moving forward, as teachers in the Media Studies courses, we hope to offer even more opportunities for students to gain from the exploration these elements that are already foundational ideas in many of our classes. One desire that we have discussed is the potential of offering a Study-away experience. We also hope to accomplish a more sustainable community through the focus on creating intentional connections with other Departments, as well as connections with other local community events that focus in digital story-telling, media literacy, and digital art. Media Studies students should come to understand that their little community of Media Studies has a place inside the greater community of Appalachian through cross-disciplinary work with other Departments, and also to the greater community of Boone, and then outward regionally, nationally, and globally.
During this Faculty Study Away Training that I will be able to discuss these ideas, and to be open to new ideas, while brainstorming ways of creating connections for students and instructors in our Department. I also hope to explore ways that we can bring some of the cultural vitality of the big city into the experience of our beautiful small town, both inside and outside of the University.
ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister), Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future (London).
Sustainable Communities : Skills and Learning for Place Making. Hertfordshire, US: University Of Hertfordshire Press, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 April 2017.
University, Appalachian State. “Appalachian State University / Facts.” Appalachian State University, http://www.appstate.edu/about/facts/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2017.