What stories does our campus tell, and how can we broaden them?

Addition, rather than subtraction, will be Appalachian’s approach
Saturday, September 16, 2017

How can our campus space reflect the diversity of our population and tell a fuller story of our history?

Last week, Robert Haswell, geographer, political activist and former member of the Democratic Party of Parliament and African National Congress in South Africa, visited campus and shared his experiences meeting and working with Nelson Mandela. Among the stories he shared was one about transforming Pietermaritzburg from a city of monuments and place names celebrating Victorian colonialism and British influence to one that more fully reflects the city’s true history – including the abuses, arrests, and triumphs of Gandhi and Mandela.

What does this have to do with Appalachian?

As cities and institutions, particularly across the South, consider history, monuments and place names, we must also do so at Appalachian. One lesson we can learn from Pietermaritzburg is that addition, rather than subtraction, delivers a powerful message. This is an important part of embracing our commitment to inclusive excellence.

I am convening a working group of students, faculty, and staff that will be looking at the multi-layered history and heritage of our campus - including the names of buildings and streets, the markers and monuments that currently tell the story of our place. This group is charged with making recommendations about how we protect, promote and rethink what messages our surroundings convey, and more, what they do not.

Our rich Appalachian heritage is defined by the populations of Scots-Irish, German and French who settled in Western North Carolina, but not singularly so.

North Carolina natives have history and traditions in this state dating back more than 10,000 years. Through his Gadugi initiative, Dr. Allen Bryant is working to bring that culture deserved exposure and to facilitate admission to our university for Cherokee students. He is not alone in his efforts.

Since the early 1980s, Appalachian Studies scholars have highlighted the heritage and traditions of African Americans in the region, including Boone’s historically black community of Junaluska.

Next month, the Junaluska Heritage Association will unveil a long-overdue marker in the historic black section of the Old Boone Cemetery, behind Cone Residence Hall, on Howard Street. I am pleased to note many Appalachian students are among those working on this project.

This is the kind of engagement we want on our campus – to expose rather than deny; to invite rather than exclude, to build up rather than tear down. We will celebrate a fuller, richer version of our history by telling all the stories, embracing and recognizing that we must dig deeper to understand the complete stories of our past and how we came to be where we are as an institution today. We can begin by adding to our narrative – shining the brightest light on those left far too long in the shadows.

Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor