Participation Type


Session Title

Scholar Activism in Appalachia

Session Abstract or Summary

The Scholar Activist Alliance (SAA) is a model for linking academic institutions and frontline community organizations in order for scholars to engage in research that increases the capacity of activist organizations and affects positive social change. Currently organized and led by undergraduate students at Swarthmore College, Oberlin University, and Appalachian State University, the SAA is building a replicable model and framework for collaborative participatory research. While historically focused on communities in Appalachia shouldering the negative effects of extractive industry, the SAA is exploring additional opportunities to expand beyond the region.

Recognizing the history and continued practices of knowledge extraction in marginalized communities, the SAA seeks to directly challenge power structures that privilege “professional” knowledge over community knowledge, and view community residents and activists as experts of their own lives. The SAA fully recognizes the importance and value of research that is led, directed, and owned by the community, and supported and augmented by academic resources.

The roundtable will consist of students and community organizers involved in various scholar activist projects, including research on the politics of solidarity in the indigenous-led #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, an oral history project in Wise County, VA, campaign research for participatory economic development initiatives in East Tennessee, and arts-based exploration of labor movement histories in Appalachia. We will discuss navigating the tension between theory and action and share best practices for completing engaged, collaborative research projects founded on the principles of research justice.

Presentation #1 Title

Scholar Activism in Appalachia

Presentation #1 Abstract or Summary

Please see above for session summary.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #1

Ricki Draper (convener) is a student and organizer at Appalachian State University. She has worked on campaigns for environmental justice in Appalachia since 2011. She is currently involved in various scholar activist projects including research on the politics of solidarity in the indigenous-led #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, an oral history project with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and a land reform study on the Navajo Nation.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #2

Laura Rigell hails from East Tennessee and has been involved with the SAA since 2014 when she was interning with Coal River Mountain Watch in southern West Virginia. Laura holds a bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and a Masters of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Laura is now working in Philadelphia to advance solar energy as a tool for economic and racial justice as the Solar Manager for the Philadelphia Energy Authority and an organizer with Serenity Soular.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #3

Nick Mullins is a sociopolitical communications strategist specializing in rural working class communities. His current work includes communications development for the Appalachian Land Study working group as well as continued public outreach on Appalachian and rural working-class issues as a lecturer at postsecondary institutions and through his blog “The Thoughtful Coal Miner.”

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #4

Bill McCabe is a sixth generation Appalachian of Scotch-Irish origins. This helps explains his love of and advocacy for the mountains, people, and water of Appalachia. During more than 50 years of advocacy, Bill has fought to defend all three, first as a social studies teacher (15 years), as a union organizer (10 years), and finally as an Environmental Justice Organizer and community volunteer (20 years).

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #5

Hannah Gillespie is a recent Appalachian State graduate, where she studied Sociocultural Anthropology and Journalism. Hannah's passion lies in sharing the stories of others to promote change.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #6

Christian Huerta is a fourth year Anthropology student at Appalachian State University and is interested in ecology, environmental policy, activism, sustainable development, and GIS mapping. She has participated in ethnographic field work in Appalachia, VA and King's Mountain and hopes to continue towards an environmentally focused career in the Southeastern United States.

This document is currently not available here.



Scholar Activism in Appalachia

Please see above for session summary.