Rural sociology class challenges assumptions

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Throughout the years, rural locations across the U.S. have undergone significant changes. As more and more alterations to the landscape of rural society loom on the horizon, one class at K-State examines all these transformations.

Rural Sociology examines these locations while dispelling some assumptions in the process.

On the first day of the class, Theresa Selfa, assistant professor of sociology, anthropology and social work, gave students the task of identifying whether their hometowns were rural, suburban or urban. Students then listed five words that came to mind when they thought of rural locations. Selfa said for students from rural, urban and suburban locations, three or four out of the five words were the same for each group.

“They were things like ‘farm’ and ‘country,'” she said. “I think we have this perception where the first thing they think of rural is farm or cows. Part of that’s true. Certainly in a lot of Midwestern rural places, farming is one of the dominant industries.

“But there are a lot of other things going on in rural places. Rural places have actually changed a lot in the last 20 years. A lot of rural places in the Midwest have gotten a lot more ethnically diverse than they have ever been before because of meatpacking and some of those kinds of jobs.”

Tanner McGee, senior in sociology, said he believes the course will help him alter his perceptions beyond conventional assumptions about rural areas.

“I think learning about rural societies will help me not judge people by where they are from,” he said. “Most people have a perspective of rural areas as boring, but I think in this course we will learn that there is much more to rural societies than just farming.”

Selfa has revamped the class twice to demonstrate these ongoing changes. Students must complete five papers throughout the semester gauging their perceptions of rurality.

The class also incorporates guest lecturers during its Friday discussion section. Selfa said a demographer from the department of sociology, anthropology and social work; a local farmer; and a person from a non-governmental organization would be among the guest lecturers.

In a class relatively balanced between rural and non-rural students, non-rural students, such as Jeff Murdock, junior in sociology, said he is looking forward to learning more about rural areas.

“I’d say I’m looking forward to learning more about rural areas and getting better insight on them, since I’m used to non-rural settings,” he said.

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