Three Research Projects Funded by Welch Appalachian Social and Economic Justice Project

The memory of late Eastern Kentucky University social work professor Rob Welch will live on in the work of EKU faculty, thanks to research proposals funded by the Welch Appalachian Social Justice Project.

The first three faculty members to receive funding via the Project were announced recently: Dr. Stephanie McSpirit, Dr. Alan Banks and Dr. Michael Bradley.

“Rob Welch was someone who cared deeply about students and fully engaged himself in the pursuit and preservation of knowledge – especially knowledge that helps us understand more about ourselves and our community,” said Dr. Caroline Reid, associate professor of social work at EKU and coordinator of the Project. “These three successful research proposals are great examples of social justice in Appalachia, and he would be happy to know that his memory is being honored in this way.”

Two of the three research projects will involve students. Anthropology major Mary Phillips, of Fort Wright, will assist McSpirit, and recent EKU graduate Kathryn Engle, now a graduate student at Appalachian State University, will assist Banks.

McSpirit’s project involves a series of formal interviews with residents and stakeholders in the Elkhorn City/Breaks Interstate Park region regarding challenges and opportunities in the region. Interviews already have been held with members of the Elkhorn City Heritage Council.

“We hope to gain deeper ethnographic insight into the challenges facing one particular Appalachian community that has experienced economic opportunities, as well as economic, social and environmental injustices historically associated with coal mining in the Appalachian region,” said McSpirit, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work. “Participatory research projects, like this one, by instilling a sense of commitment among participants, will provide an opportunity for a broader level of community engagement in decision-making processes associated with developing tourism and/or other economic and community development initiatives within the community.”

Banks’ project will chronicle the history of the Lend-A-Hand Center in Knox County and its work in and with the community.

“This project will highlight the social justice work of the organization and show what can be learned from its long and multifaceted history,” said Banks, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work and director of the University’s Center for Appalachian Studies. “This project will give the organization, community and others working for social justice in Appalachia evidence of the potential impact of the work of a non-profit organization in addressing the needs of a community and fostering empowerment. Over the years, the Lend-A-Hand Center has addressed many social problems in the Stinking Creek community, including poverty, drug use, education, health and lack of jobs in innovative ways. In the absence of scholarly research on the social conditions in Knox County over the past 50 years, this research will fill a void in the understanding of the county and its socioeconomic status of the time.”

Bradley’s project is entitled “Identifying Social Justice Barriers in Kentucky’s Appalachia Region State Parks.”

“Social justice often refers to the relationships that various people have with one another, in a local area, culture or region and the equity of services and opportunities provided to all peoples within those groups, said Bradley, an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration. “The purpose of this study is to gain insight as to the levels of place attachment, barriers to participation in the state parks, and environmental values of visitors to Kentucky State Parks.” The researcher will approach adult visitors at selected sites to complete the survey.

All researchers will have up to one year to complete their research and will present their findings at the Welch Appalachian Social and Economic Justice lecture series in March 2014.

For more information about the Welch Appalachian Social Justice Project, visit

Published on February 08, 2013

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