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Unveiling Rural America: A Grad Student’s Focus on Shelby

A former resident of Shelby and a graduate student is embarking on a project aimed at capturing the intricacies of life in rural America more accurately.

Jacqueline Crowell, previously residing in Shelby, is currently pursuing her master’s degree in sociology and criminology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The Middle of the Road project, initiated last summer as her senior project, is now the focus of her final semester studies.

Crowell’s thesis project involves conducting an ethnography that delves into rural America, exploring the lives of its residents, the challenges they encounter, and the factors influencing their choice to reside in the rural south. She aims to present a more authentic depiction of rural life, particularly in small-town America.

To gather insights for her project, Crowell is seeking participation from millennials born between 1981 and 1996, either current residents of Shelby or those who have moved away. The project involves filling out a consent form and scheduling an interview with Crowell via Zoom. The interviews, comprising 15 questions and lasting between 30 minutes to an hour, aim to capture diverse perspectives on rural living.

Growing up in Shelby, Crowell was exposed to stark social disparities, motivating her interest in sociology. She noticed a tendency in sociological discourse to oversimplify rural life, prompting her to delve deeper into the subject during her academic journey.

The project’s scope extends to exploring why millennials choose to either remain in or leave places like Shelby. Through interviews and data collection efforts, Crowell has received an overwhelming response, surpassing her initial expectations. The project, initially envisioned to include a dozen interviews, has now expanded significantly.

Preliminary findings from the interviews highlight varying opinions on town growth, cost of living, housing challenges, and community dynamics. Concerns over job opportunities, gentrification, and generational tensions have also emerged as prominent themes.

Crowell ensures the anonymity of participants and aims to continue her research by applying for PhD programs and expanding the project into a dissertation. She plans to present her findings at upcoming conferences and invites eligible individuals to participate before the March 11 deadline.