In Fall 2017, we collaboratively developed and facilitated “Our Appalachian Community,” a first-year seminar for first-generation college students. This classroom brought together one of the most diverse student populations at ASU. Although this cohort primarily hails from non-Appalachian NC, we grappled with the social worlds of the Appalachian region and of first-generation college students through the lenses of personal and civic identity. We asked ourselves, “What and who defines (our) community/communities?” “How is community made?” “What are the limits of community?” “Where does place come in?”
To make sense of divergent experiences of community and belonging in relation to Appalachian places, we engaged with and created multimedia texts, personal photography, autobiography, acts of community service, and outdoor events. In addition to regular classes, students participated in “Appalachian Community Hour,” a weekly opportunity for active, student-led creative learning in which, among other things, we attempted flatfoot dance and participatory theater and designed our own collaborative public art project.
We believe power lies in reckoning with the complexities of community, place, and belonging in Appalachia, especially for first-generation college students for whom Appalachia represents a short-term home. By offering and accepting gifts of creative expression, students in “Our Appalachian Community” joined the region’s extended family and forged personal connections that will guide their civic and scholarly missions at ASU and beyond.
In this presentation, we will reflect on the pedagogical challenges in creating a transgressive learning community that seeks common ground among a diverse cohort together in a (mostly) new region.