Identity and Diversity in Appalachia

On November 1, 2007, Berea College hosted a college-wide symposium exploring identity and diversity in Appalachia. The program proved to be a tremendous success with more than 800 people in attendance.Here we present excerpts from four of the symposium speakers, each indicative of the diversity that has always existed in Appalachia. That same diversity is observable within the student population of Berea College, an institution that has long viewed its institutional identity as tied to place.

Carl Thomas

Carl Thomas, Associate Director of Admissions and Coordinator of Minority Services at Berea College, who addresses the conflict between race and ethnic heritage among the black community;

Deborah Weiner

Dr. Deborah R. Weiner, author of Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History,who shares the story about the genesis of her study, which eventually focused on the coalfields of southern West Virginia and southeastern Kentucky and explores the issue of how Appalachian Jews have historically defined themselves;

Summer West

Summar West, Instructor of Composition at Maryville College, who discusses how she discovered her Appalachian heritage in college and who speaks to the ongoing negotiation that is necessary to loving and understanding difference;

Patricia Tarquino

And Patty Tarquino, a Berea College graduate who is now a community organizer in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, who speaks of her origins in Cali, Columbia, and the similarities she has found between her home community and her new Appalachian community, including the ongoing struggles of each to secure a better way of life..

As Deborah Weiner writes in her selection: “These are the kind of people who have lived in Appalachia through the years. Diversity is at the heart of the Appalachian experience,” and ever present is it here in these contemporary Appalachian voices.