Helping Appalachian Males Transition into College Life

In recent years Berea College has ramped up its effort to improve male retention rates. A major proponent of this effort has been the implementation of three Male Initiative programs; the Appalachian Male Initiative (AMI), the Black Male Leadership Initiative (BMLI), as well as the Latino Male Initiative (LMI). Together these three groups make up Berea College’s Male Initiative. Each of these cohorts are enrolled in a course that compliments the efforts of these programs.  

Our Appalachian Male Initiative students are enrolled in an Appalachian Studies course taught by Dr. Bobby Starnes. Her teaching method engages the class in a blend of Appalachian history, interactions with historical artifacts from relevant periods of time, and critical writing/thinking exercises. 

Throughout the semester our course is also joined by Damon Rosenbarker who leads the class each month in a more hands-on learning experience. Damon has taken AMI students on excursions such as hiking trips and canoeing, baking cornbread in dutch ovens, and even taught us how to craft our own Gee-Haw toys (also known as a whimmy-diddle). 

One of the primary focuses of this initiative is to foster a sense of community and efficacy among these Appalachian Males. The combined efforts of our APS 121 course, interactive lessons outside of the traditional classroom setting, and events in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center all aim towards providing these students space to learn about themselves, their history, their capabilities, and the journeys that face them here at Berea College. 

Leaving home and transitioning into college can be daunting. I’ll never forget my own move-in day experience. As my sister and I crossed campus and stared up at the mystical mixture of brick buildings and luscious treetops we both had the same reaction; it felt like Hogwarts. Something not of our known world. As I look back now I can laugh at how infinite and magical this place felt. To some this is empowering, inspiring, and the opportunity of a lifetime (as it truly is). However, for others? Those towering academic fortresses become a weight too heavy to bear. The responsibilities of a Berea College student begin to pile on their shoulders and it only takes one wrong step for a promising student to fold in on themselves like an accordion. 

The AMI and the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center have been working together to create a welcoming space for conversation and productivity in our gallery as well as Faber Library. Not just for these AMI students, but for our entire campus. Faber Library is a resource we strongly urge students to take advantage of when faced with a research assignment pertaining to the Appalachian Region or its culture. While students may not check-out material from Faber, the library’s hours have been extended until 8PM Monday-Thursday, allowing students more time and flexibility when searching out resources or a place for study. 

Even for a small campus like Berea College it can be easy to slip into the exclusion of our separate nooks and crannies. We focus in on what’s directly in front of us and forget the broader campus as a whole. With a campus culture that places such an emphasis on hard work and taking on multiple roles it’s understandable that we sometimes fall into these ruts of isolation. One of our goals in working with these three groups of students is to intentionally seek out time and places where we can come together in fellowship. We do not seek to divide, but to strengthen our bonds through better understanding of ourselves. 

Article Written by Rick Childers, Appalachian Male Advocate and Mentor