OUS continues to work to help Appalachia prosper

Published 12:37 am Sunday, July 5, 2009

This article was in no way encouraged by or intended to be an advertisement for OUSC but simply out of a sincere appreciation for the investment that Ohio University has made in our region and our people.

In 1962, Michael Harrington’s book “The Other America” brought to light the shocking state of poverty that existed in what was known to most simply as the wealthiest society in the world, America.

The book examined the living conditions of the people of Appalachia and how corporate greed, government neglect, absentee ownership, and corrupt politicians along with the coal industry had stripped the Appalachian land of its valuable resources and demoralized its people.

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This demoralization fueled a culture of poor values among the people who, to this day, embrace the “culture of poverty.” Eric Arnesen described the Appalachian poor as “trapped by hopelessness.

Prolonged deprivation had left them dispirited and apathetic, incapable of envisioning a better life and thus unable to take action to improve their own life” in his Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History.

The Appalachian culture described by these two investigators was and still is quite accurate. Although their works sparked a fire under politicians like JFK, who, upon reading Harrington’s words, announced the Anti Poverty Program of the 1964 session of Congress, and Johnson’s “unconditional war on poverty,” human nature got in the way of good intentions.

Government assistance programs that were intended to be the ladder out of the hole of poverty merely became a crutch to hobble along. Unfortunately, government assistance programs continue to be abused by the people of our region. “Free money” is expected, owed to us, and food stamps are sold for drug money.

For years there was literally no way out of the rut of Appalachian poverty that fed itself generation after generation. The opportunity simply wasn’t there.

Not only were jobs scarce but training and higher education were unavailable. Thanks to Ohio University and better government programs, the people of Appalachia now have the means necessary to succeed.

The investment that OU has made in the Tri-State means more than most people appreciate. Besides our buildings of faith, Ohio University Southern campus is undoubtedly the most important institution in our area.

After returning to Ironton in 2001 I was married with a daughter and lacked a college education. Without the presence of OUSC in Ironton there is no doubt that I would have been doomed to a tedious, low paying job for the rest of my days. However, the investment that Ohio University has made in our community makes it possible for people like me to work a full-time job, be a full-time parent, and still obtain the college degree necessary to better their situation. I have since earned my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, walked out of the steel mill and now work for a patent holding company here in Ironton making good money in a healthy environment.

OU has allowed the Southern Campus to carry full degree programs in Business, Education, Nursing, and more.

It is very possible to earn these degrees through evening classes and most of the instructors are understanding of the life of a working adult and appreciate the effort and dedication necessary to balance such an undertaking.

The increased spending on assistance programs by the Nixon administration led to a new level of abuse of those programs. The administration then promoted the slogan “a hand up, not a hand out.”

That slogan is now a perfect fit the Ohio University Southern Campus.

With plentiful financial aid options available to anyone willing to research and apply for them, Ohio University Southern Campus becomes that ladder that we have needed for so long.

A strong dedication and years of hard work are required on the part of the individual but no longer should money, travel, or life responsibilities create a wall between the people of the Ohio Valley and success.

From one Appalachian who has benefitted from your investment in our community, thank you.

Steve Shelton