Many groups in Southwest Virginia are largely invisible in media and research, despite being integral to the fabric of our communities. A flipped symposium, "amplifying unheard voices"on January 14, 2020 in Newman Library’s multipurpose room brought together more than 80 researchers, Virginia Tech students, interested community members, and speakers to discover these voices and honor their local stories. Speakers included:

Hannah Martin, LGBT military veteran, small-scale farmer, and potter.
Victoria Ferguson, Monacan Indian tribal elder and cultural steward.
Chris Alderman, recovering substance user and peer recovery advocate.
Hothaifa Abu Samra, Syrian refugee and community college student.
Julia Dinsmore, poet and poverty abolitionist.

“This event was meant to inspire and equip long-term collaboration between Virginia Tech and community groups,” said Nathaniel Porter, University Libraries’ social science data consultant  and data education coordinator. “During the event, attendees had the chance to partner directly in community-based research through facilitated conversations.”

Martin, a Navy and Marine Corps veteran and event speaker, lives in Grayson County with her wife and infant son. “I live in a little tiny community in Southwest Virginia, and it’s really quite rural,” said Martin. “It has less than a thousand people, which is smaller than the first ship I was on board. I will talk about some of my reactions to that world. Yes, it’s my own history, but also the story arc of what it’s like being in this community.”

Ferguson, an enrolled member of the Monacan Indian Nation and event speaker, embraces the chance to tell her story. “Our voices have been silenced, so the opportunity to amplify our voices and have people think about the things we’ve gone through is a great idea,” said Ferguson. “We’re saying ‘what’s going to help your program? What’s going to help your community and how can we help?’”

Porter is working with speakers and attendees to select four to six projects out of the 24 that were suggested during the symposium. Proposed project ideas included traditional academic activities like collecting coral histories and publishing open access resources. Other ideas ranged from hosting grant-writing workshops for communities experiencing marginalization to securing adequate safe housing over breaks for non-local students who can’t afford to return home.

“Only a few of the project ideas comprised traditional research, which we didn’t expect,” said Porter. “But that’s okay because the point of the event was to build lasting connections and find meaningful ways to build better communities in Southwest Virginia.”

The event was sponsored by University Libraries, Center for Humanities, and the Office for Inclusion and Diversity Advancing the Human Condition Symposium.

Written by Ann Brown