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WCU Stories

WCU teams with Blue Ridge Pride Center, UNCA for local LGBTQ project

A collaboration between Western Carolina University, the University of North Carolina Asheville and the Blue Ridge Pride Center will gather oral histories, archival materials and photos for an ongoing LGBTQ+ community research project. 

The Blue Ridge Pride Center is a nonprofit founded in 2008 and estimates the region is home to some 35,000 people who identify as LGBTQ+. 

Amanda Wray, project founder for the Pride Center, is an associate professor at UNCA, teaching women’s studies, gender and sexuality studies, and writing and rhetoric courses. Both her academic work and her civic efforts concentrate on equity and anti-racist rhetoric, oral history research and community engagement within higher education. 

“This project is a great example of cross-institutional collaboration, showing what can be achieved through coordination, a common goal and a shared spirit,” said Wray. “Our ambition is to sustain the project through grant funding, student learning and internship opportunities, and community volunteers. To date we have collected – and are in the process of digitizing – more than 60 oral history interviews and nearly 20 boxes of physical materials.”

Funded by a WCU provost grant in the spring semester 2020, the Jackson County Collection will involve undergraduate and graduate students at both universities and various community stakeholders, including the YMCA and oral history narrators. The resulting collection will be included in WCU’s Hunter Library special collections and in Blue Ridge Pride Center’s Virtual Pride Center. There also will be a local event in Sylva to celebrate the ongoing project in the summer or early fall.

The goal of the Jackson County Collection is to include the experiences, challenges and traditions of the Jackson County community together with a presentation of queer life throughout Western North Carolina and help engage WCU students and the public more critically and meaningfully with LGBTQ+ lives. 

“This will help the campus community and others understand how there is a history of LGBTQ+ lives here in Jackson County and at Western Carolina University,” said Travis Rountree, assistant professor of English and WCU project leader.

Sarah Steiner, WCU associate professor and head of instructional services who is coordinating the collection at Hunter Library, said she “hopes it will help highlight under-represented voices in the region and support future gender and sexuality research initiatives.”

The oral histories will be transcribed for use by historians, gender researchers and linguists. Erin Callahan, WCU associate professor of English, said the project will “help raise the visibility of rural LGBTQ+ populations in sociolinguistic studies of language variation, where they have been largely overlooked.”

For more information, contact Steiner at sksteiner@wcu.edu

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