Combatting Assumptions in Rural Communities
Assumptions close us off to input from others; they can hinder our ability to consider alternatives or address all areas of need. In any community based project, it is critical to be adaptive to information you find along the way, and listen to the needs of the community you are helping. My project aims to help the queer community in North Carolina, specifically creating resources for queer young adults, and its success will depend on my ability to identify and respond to the needs of this community.
Much of my motivation for this project comes from my own experiences growing up queer in North Carolina and seeing a lack of representation amongst my teachers and professional mentors. Approaching this project from within the queer community I am serving, it is easier and harder in different respects to combat assumptions. It is easier in that I have more exposure to people within the queer community; I am more likely to draw from interactions I’ve had and the experiences of peers than media portrayal of queer culture. The investment I have in making this community project is driven by a desire to help this community and by a desire to provide better support than I had. However, when drawing from my own experiences, I must be careful not to project the needs I had onto the situations of others. To truly meet the needs of this community, it will be critical to draw more from the perspectives of my peers than my own.
Meeting the needs of different geographic regions in North Carolina is an area I anticipate needing the greatest insight from others. The dynamics of queer communities are vastly different in urban and rural towns. Larger cities like Raleigh and Durham may have their own dedicated LGBTQ center, while smaller towns may lack these physical spaces. For individuals in urban areas, a print pamphlet could be accessed through community centers like this. In rural areas, where in-person queer spaces are rarer, a physical pamphlet becomes difficult to distribute. While getting printed resources into queer community centers is the first step, it cannot create impactful differences if these community centers themselves are inaccessible to young North Carolinians. Additionally, North Carolinians in rural communities may have different needs for the material itself.
While I can draw upon my own experiences growing up in the triangle, and the experiences of community members near me, it will be critical to identify people in rural communities to share their perspectives and input. In order to avoid the pitfalls of assumptions, I will need to seek and respond to feedback from peers outside my circumstances. While I will be seeking feedback in every stage of this project, I am going to make an intentional effort to ensure that it does not all come from the same group I am working with on this project. I am greatly interested in speaking with rural queer community leaders to find out what they feel is appropriate material for their needs, and to connect with organizers already aware of the needs of youth in their location. Over the next few months, I will no doubt encounter more areas where my prior assumptions limit my ability to proceed. It will be my responsibility to check in with myself and others about where my biases lie and affect my work as I proceed.