It was an honor to be the First-Gen Faculty/Staff Feature for the Hokie Mentorship Connect Program. My answers (below) to questions about first-gen experiences were posted on the Empowering First-Gen Discussion Board Group.

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PhDone! December 2018.

Current Title & Employer/Department:
Presidential Pathways Postdoctoral Fellow,
Department of Religion and Culture, Virginia Tech

Favorite Quote:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. –John Wesley

What does the term First-Gen mean to you?
To me, first-gen simply means that you are the first in your family to attend college (a 4-year university). I try not to generalize what it means beyond that but recognize that students who do not have family members with this experience may have different challenges than students who have family members with college degrees. …

Reading “Plucked from obscurity: why bluegrass is making a comeback” by Emma Johns, I was delighted to find coverage of the bluegrass genre in mainstream publications such as The Guardian. The full story can be found here:

As I thought about the story Johns’ was telling, I began to think about the ways bluegrass has consistently been used in mainstream media to signify something different. As Johns’ points out, the genre is emerging into new spaces as social media allows for more direct sharing and movements become more amplified. It is crucial that we do not (continue) to present generalizations and stereotypes, particularly about rural communities when discussing the genre because whether intentional or not, the genre comes attached to ideas about whiteness, rurality, and Appalachia. As we in regional or places-based studies have witnessed, to continually share false narratives, however well intended, results in continued systemic oppression and privilege. Articles and stories about places or cultures are inherently political, and stories about rural/urban cultural differences are always, in the end, about power. …

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Teaching “Introduction to Appalachian Studies” at Virginia Tech, our classroom conversations about gender, economy, social labor, politics, and national history often centered around coal, coal miners, and coal mines. Despite the massive size of the region, it is crucial that students understand the influence and importance of extractive industries and the legacies of resistance found in the coalfield. …

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McAfee Knob. photo by Jordan Laney

NOTE: This essay was originally published on RE: Reflections and Explorations, A Graduate Student Commentary published by Virginia Tech on October 10, 2016.

I have wanted to read Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance for a few months. Almost weekly a new review or blog appears concerning this volume, which has become a national best-seller. Because of its personal, memoir nature I found its appeal interesting. I was careful not to read the reviews too closely, but found comments such as “he gets it” or “this is an insider perspective” alluring. While teaching “Introduction to Appalachian Studies” here at Virginia Tech I often work through the local color fiction movement[1] and think, how did people not respond? How did journalists and correspondents for the New York Times as well as scholars not catch these acts of generalizing and aggrandizing on behalf of elite readers and metaphorical fulfilments of the American dream? How did we trade in the breadth of diversity the region has to offer for one view? While reading Hillbilly Elegy, I thought, here is how. This is how places and people become caricatures of themselves, ourselves. It is not my interest in Vance’s writing or personal plight that kept me reading his self-celebratory personal narrative. No, it is knowing that this text is approachable, available, and popular, consumed by many much as Deliverance, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, The Beverly Hillbillies, and local color fiction have been before. Vance’s personal and unquestionably political narrative is an important read in understanding the ways in which societies recreate people, places, and feelings about ideologies. …

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This essay was also published as a part of the GPP cohort manual. You can read reflections from other Virginia Tech graduate students here:

As an Appalachian Studies scholar who employs feminist methods, I am interested in marginalized spaces not limited to Appalachia and the global south, while understanding and critiquing power relations in non-normative ways. This means considering knowledge and power through senses, experiences, embodiment, and affect to name a few. I also look to possibilities for radical transformation in non-traditional ways. While higher education privileges a normalization of knowledge production and assessment I have great hope in institutes of learning as spaces of potential — potential change for the betterment of society. …


Jordan Laney


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