Friday, April 30, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CXXIX): More on vaccine hesitancy, religion, and adjacent themes

The dateline for this New York Times story is Greenville, Tennessee, population 15,062, in the eastern part of the state, and Jan Hoffman reports under the dateline, "Faith, Freedom and Fear:  Rural America's Vaccine Skeptics."  Here's an excerpt:  

[A] week here in Greene County reveals a more nuanced, layered hesitancy than surveys suggest. People say that politics isn’t the leading driver of their vaccine attitudes. The most common reason for their apprehension is fear — that the vaccine was developed in haste, that long-term side effects are unknown. Their decisions are also entangled in a web of views about bodily autonomy, science and authority, plus a powerful regional, somewhat romanticized self-image: We don’t like outsiders messing in our business.

Hoffman provides the demographic profile up front--overwhelmingly white, conservative and Christian.  This description of the place is also quite interesting: 

People scrape by on subsistence farming, jobs in small factories, welfare checks and cash flow from retirees who are moving onto the cheap, vista-blissful land. Drug busts for heroin and methamphetamine sustain a humming cottage industry of lawyers and bail bonds services.

And then there's this reference to rural lack of anonymity: 

What’s also lacking is a groundswell that might encourage the hesitant to make the leap: Many people who have gotten vaccinated are remaining tight-lipped.

And this, which highlights the peer pressure angle on what is happening, presumably in urban communities as well as rural ones:

“A lot of times I have to temper my opinions in order to fit in,” Ms. Hayes said, tears welling in her eyes. “I’m walking a line between people refusing to socialize with me or not.”

Ms. Hayes grew up here, left, and returned to care for her mother. Late in 2019, while teaching English online to students in China, she noticed that some were disappearing from her computer monitor. They were succumbing to a mysterious virus.

Later, when her family went into lockdown, neighbors dismissed her fears.

And note this regarding the centrality of work: 

“Appalachians were raised to believe they must work and can’t get sick, no matter what,” said Ms. Hayes, who has a graduate degree in Appalachian studies. She wept in frustration as familiar names appeared on her prayer chain, deathly ill from the virus.

P.S.  Don't miss the complimentary podcast to this story on The Daily, dated May 10, 2021.  Great audio of a local Greenville doctor coaching his patients to get the vaccine.   

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Carnegie Fellowship awarded for study of "rural future" by University of Nebraska's Jessica Shoemaker

 Jessica Shoemaker of the University of Nebraska has been awarded a Carnegie Fellowship to study "rural America's challenges and opportunities."  The project is titled “Remaking a Land of Opportunity: America’s Rural Future.”

Here's an excerpt from the University of Nebraska's press release.  

Rural America is at a critical point — in the past, a vision of bucolic agrarianism; ahead, increasing industrialization and absentee land ownership that raises serious questions about its future. It’s also at the heart of many grand global challenges, ranging from climate change to racial justice. A Nebraska law professor will explore rural America’s challenges and opportunities as a 2021 Andrew Carnegie Fellow.

Jessica Shoemaker is only the second University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty member to receive the prestigious honor — and one of 26 nationwide this year. The award grants each recipient $200,000 over two years to complete a major project. 

And this is from Shoemaker:

Modern agriculture is highly industrialized and increasingly characterized by concentrated, absentee land ownership. Many rural places face a crisis of depopulation, political alienation, environmental decline and racial injustice. While 98% of farmlands are owned by people who are white, the people who work the low-wage, often dangerous agricultural sector jobs are overwhelmingly not white and more likely to live in segregated rural geographies of concentrated, persistent poverty. This project analyzes the overlooked role of property law — including our most fundamental land-tenure choices — in constructing these dynamics.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Walter Mondale as rural: reflections on the occasion of his death

I found myself engaged by reflections on former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale's death over the past few days.  It's been a walk down memory lane for me; I was in middle school and just starting to follow politics seriously when the Carter-Mondale ticket won in 1976.  Some of the tributes to Mondale have mentioned that he was a product of rural America, including this piece by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who Mondale mentored:  

He was a small-town boy, the son of a minister who rose to the second-highest office in the land, with a strong moral core that defined his every action.

And here's a quote from the New York Times obituary of Mondale:

Walter Frederick Mondale was born on Jan. 5, 1928, in the hamlet of Ceylon, in southern Minnesota, in a lake region less than five miles from the Iowa border.
* * * 
Mr. Mondale’s father lost a series of farms in the 1920s and moved from town to town, subsisting on meager earnings while Mr. Mondale’s mother gave music lessons and led the choir in each of Theodore’s parishes. His parents believed in helping the less fortunate and never making a show of it.

Once asked whether he would be a good president, Mr. Mondale said: “I have trouble answering that. If my father had ever heard me tell him that I would make a good president, I would have been taken directly to the woodshed. In my family, the two things you were sure to get spanked for were lying or bragging about yourself.” 

These references to Fritz' Mondale's rural roots tend not to indicate explicitly how that rurality shaped the man.  It's something I'd like to hear fleshed out, though I suspect I know what these writers are getting at, and I suspect what they are getting at is based on a big dose of nostalgia about the nature of rural community. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

On the role of sports in rural high schools, and resilience amidst a pandemic

There are layers to these three LA Times stories--two news stories and a video feature--but in the interest of time, I'll just post the links here, here and here.  The dateline for all three is Weaverville, California, in remote Trinity County.  I'll also say that these stories are a testament to how sports keep kids in school, and provide motivation for them to try.  Sports also represent a key opportunity for socialization, something that's been lost in many a school, whether rural or urban.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Improving transgender health care in rural Colorado

The Colorado Sun reports out of Cripple Creek, Colorado, population 1,189, under the headline, "New program aims to teach rural Colorado health providers about transgender care."  Here's an excerpt:
Called the Extension for Community Health Outcomes, or ECHO, this nonprofit offers virtual, interactive classes on complex health issues to providers outside of major metropolitan areas.

Starting in 2020, ECHO Colorado launched a monthly class dedicated to teaching people about gender-affirming care, which attracted 45 providers, including Bullis, from Colorado and surrounding states. Classes covered topics including proper terminology, creating an inclusive environment and managing a patient’s hormones. The hope moving forward is that a growing number of providers across rural America will learn these lessons, thus expanding access to gender-affirming health care.

The ECHO approach was created in 2003 by liver disease specialist Dr. Sanjeev Arora, at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His goal was to mentor rural providers on how to treat hepatitis C patients who lacked adequate care and couldn’t make the trip to a city. Almost two decades later, the program has spread to many other states and offers classes on health conditions including opioid addiction, diabetes and HIV.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The shortages in rural America

Recent studies have shown that there is a shortage of doctors in rural America. However, doctors aren’t the only professionals missing in rural America. There is also a shortage of both teachers and lawyers in these areas.

As someone who grew up in small town which some may argue was at least slightly rural, the headlines were no surprise. There are no lawyers in my small town. There is and for as long as I can remember has been a shortage of teachers. Most teachers commute into our town from bigger cities, some even driving an hour each way. The largest health center in town has one M.D. and two physician’s assistants. Thus, I wasn’t surprised to read that rural areas are experiencing a shortage of professionals in these three fields. Nevertheless, one may wonder, how bad is the shortage? What causes it? Is there anything being done about it?

Roughly 20% of the U.S. population live in rural areas, yet only 11% of physicians practice in these areas. In addition, of the more than 7,000 “federally designated health professional shortage areas, 3 out of 5 are in rural regions.” The shortage of physicians in rural America is a pressing problem. Rural Americans have “disproportionately higher healthcare needs” and “are less likely to receive preventative services.” This means that the shortage of physicians in rural areas is incredibly dangerous for an already vulnerable population.

However, it’s not all about the number of current doctors. The number of rural students pursing a medical degree is also playing a role in the shortage. According to researchers, “growing up in a rural setting is a strong predictor of future rural practice for physicians.” Thus, the shortage of physicians in rural areas indicates that there is also a pipeline problem. The number of rural students entering medical programs decreased by 18% between 2002 and 2017 while the number of urban students increased by 59% during the same period.

In sum, the research would seem to indicate that increasing the number of physicians in the U.S. wouldn’t necessarily address the shortage in rural areas. Rather, an increase in the number of rural students going to medical school and returning to their communities might a better solution.

The shortage of teachers in rural areas is equivalent or worse to the shortage of doctors. More than nine million children, or one in five, attend public schools in rural America. Despite the high number of students in rural areas, there aren’t enough teachers in these areas. The state of Montana, which has the highest share of rural schools, reported that “65% of rural schools in remote settings reported difficulty filling vacancies, compared with 35% of non-rural schools.” So, what’s causing the teacher shortage? Well, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason but it may have something to do with the fact that rural teachers are paid less than their urban counterparts. Some rural teachers were found to make almost $12,000 less than teachers in urban areas. The lower salaries make it difficult to both attract and retain new teachers. Rural areas have higher turnover rates than urban areas when it comes to both teachers and principals. Furthermore, new teachers and people going into the teaching industry are becoming scarce. In Colorado, there has been a decline of 24.4% in the number of graduates from teacher preparation programs. Some states have gotten creative and have upped their loan forgiveness programs, provided more scholarships for students going into teaching and have expanded programs that promote teaching. The state of Colorado which has been severely impacted by the shortage of teachers passed a bill allowing “retired teachers to be rehired without affecting their pensions.” Although rural areas are working hard to address the shortage, there is still much work to be done.

Like doctors and teachers, lawyers can also be difficult to find in rural areas. Despite being home to “about a fifth of the nation’s population,” rural America “[is] home to only 2% of small law practices.” Again, there are many reasons offered as to why this shortage exists. Similar to rural teachers, rural lawyers are often paid less than urban lawyers. In an attempt to motivate lawyers to practice in rural areas, South Dakota has created a program which offers an economic incentive to lawyers if they practice in a rural area. Alaska has also attempted to address the lawyer shortage through their newly-created medical-legal partnership program. This program has “embed[ded] legal services attorneys in six hospitals.” The health care professionals recommend their patients to the lawyers if the patient turned client has legal issues such as matters relating to housing. However, not many states have followed South Dakota or Alaska’s unique approaches. As this article recommends, it would be wise for states to offer similar programs to incentivize lawyers into rural areas and reduce the disparities in the access to justice.

To summarize, rural areas are struggling with doctor, teacher and lawyer shortages. Although states have begun to implement various policies and programs to address the issue, the shortages persist.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Iowa DNR approves expanded concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in rural Northeast Iowa

This week I have paid especially close attention to agricultural news from my home state, Iowa. Specifically, I heard about a new CAFO, originally proposed in 2017, finally gaining approval from Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources.

Supreme Beef’s operation resides in the small town of Monona, Iowa, whose population was only 1,635 in 2019. The facility is owned and managed by one family in Clayton County, the Walz’s. The eventual capacity of the CAFO will be massive, feeding over 11,000 cows when it fully opens.

Back in 2017, the project was proposed as a natural gas operation that would convert manure into “energy”. The CAFO attempted to combine traditional Iowan agriculture and progressive renewable energy. Locals were weary. Tammy Thompson, mom of two, feared chemical leaks into local wells.
I feel like it’s just a waiting game…We’re waiting until something bad happens.
Now, nearly four years later, the CAFO is open with a few thousand cows and will soon quintuple in size. Since its inception, environmental activists in the Iowa Sierra Club (ISP) have expressed concern about the CAFO’s proposed location. The operation sits near the top of Bloody Run Creek, which has been identified by IDNR as one of Iowa’s few ‘Outstanding Iowa Waters’. These waters are classified by IDNR as: “an outstanding state resource water in the water quality standards.”

Also concerning to the ISP is the farms manure management plan. The local karst geology is porous and vulnerable to manure seeping into groundwater below. Many of Iowa's best trout are in the Bloody Run Creek area, and Supreme Beef's manure management practices put those natural resources at risk. The facility was required to get a nutrient management plan (NMP) approved from the IDNR. Agency rules require public notice of the NMP for CAFOs and response to public comments.

The IDNR responses to comments were brief. Tammy Thompson submitted comments, asking:
…the NMP is not clear on the handling and store of manure in the lagoon…How will they control the smell? A lagoon full of 30 million gallons of manure will be overwhelmingly odorous, causing neighbors to be unable to enjoy the outdoors.
In response, the IDNR referenced the NMP without addressing her concerns about smell and its impacts on local residents. However, public opposition was able to delay the operation. The first NMP was so unpopular that the IDNR approved the facility under a reduced capacity of 2,700 cows, which the CAFO currently houses. The smaller facility is estimated to generate seven million gallons of manure per year.

The second NMP, and current expansion of the CAFO is an open feedlot and is no longer claimed to be a waste-to-energy operation. Supreme Beef's plan does not explain how the manure will be stored  or handled and does not account for the erodible nature of the topography of forty-two of the forty-five manure application fields. 

Interestingly, the majority of the articles I found that examined opposition to the Supreme Beef plant highlighted advocacy on degradation of nearby environmental resources. Few of the articles discussed advocacy on behalf of rural residents and farmers fearing the impact the CAFO would bring to their community. 

This reminded me of Professor Pruitt and Linda Sobczynski’s discussion of the conservationist lens of environmental litigation in their article I read this week, Protecting people, protecting places: What environmental litigation conceals and reveals about rurality. Professor Pruitt discussed a Newton County, Arkansas CAFO in that article and on the blog extensively and here.

It is no surprise that the Iowa DNR approved a management plan lacking details for manure and anti-degradation. The state has a long pattern of deciding in favor of industrialized agriculture. This industrialized agriculture is going to arrive in Monona whether residents like it or not. However, I hope that future advocates account for the rural perspective in their opposition to the siting of CAFOs to show a more complete picture of who is impacted by these industries.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Rural films Minari and Nomadland receive critical praise

As the pandemic keeps many of us at home, films and television provide an escape from the current reality. The impact of continued cultural development during the COVID-19 crisis is deftly captured by the words of Stephen King: “If you think artists are useless, try to spend your quarantine without music, books, poems, movies and paintings.”

With the release of Academy Award nominations and Golden Globe awards, such pomp may seem out of place this year. But the film awards circuit has brought to the spotlight two rural films that have achieved many firsts in the film industry and are bringing to households the rural United States as never before seen: Minari and Nomadland.

Minari is set in the Arkansas Ozarks during the 1980s and follows a Korean-American family as they pursue the American dream in a rural community. Director Lee Isaac Chung borrowed from his own childhood growing up on a farm in Lincoln, Arkansas. Filmed in Oklahoma during a hot summer, Chung directed much of the filming inside a double wide trailer, a home based on the one he dreamed of living in during his youth. Oklahoma hopes that the film’s success will bolster the state’s film industry, creating more jobs in the rural state.

Having won numerous Sundance Film Festival awards and six Oscar nominations, Minari’s receipt of the Golden Globe award for best foreign language film, rather than best drama, caused backlash. Although more than fifty-percent of the film’s dialogue is in Korean, Minari tells a quintessential American story of immigration, obstacles, and success. In creating his film, Chung expressed, “My friends back in Arkansas are the audience I wanted to connect with.”

Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung, both lead actors in the film, along with producer Christina Oh made history in the awards circuits: Yeun is the first Asian-American to be nominated for best actor in a leading role, Youn is the first Korean actress to receive the Screen Actors Guild award for best female actor, and Oh is the first Asian-American to be nominated for best picture. It is troubling that such firsts are being made in 2021, and backlash over the lack of diversity in film awards ceremonies is well documented and deserved: “Since 1929, only 6.2 percent of minority actors and directors have gotten [nomination] nods.”

Nomadland, Minari’s fellow critical darling, is a film by director ChloĆ© Zhao that follows a woman who leaves her remote, diminishing Nevada town to live out of her van as she traverses the American West. The movie highlights some stark realities of rurality in the United States, with remote towns across the country dwindling as residents leave and businesses close, discussed on Legal Ruralism here and here.

Filmed throughout South Dakota, Nomadland captures small-towns and rural expanses in the state, including Wall, where the infamous Wall Drug is located, and Scenic, whose current ownership is discussed in a blog post here. The state’s tourism sector is hopeful the success of the film will bring increased tourism to the filming locations: 
Movies have a tendency to inspire people and to really motivate them to travel to different places and… with the theme of the movie being outdoors and wide open spaces, I think it will really entice people to want to come out and to experience the Black Hills and Badlands area.
Director Zhao’s career illustrates a palpable love for the rural American West and specifically South Dakota, with all three of her feature films set in and filmed there. Her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, follows a teenager and his family living in the Oglala Lakota Nation and Zhao engaged primarily local, non-actor residents for the film leads.

As a Chinese national who grew up in Beijing, Zhao found joy in the rural geography featured in Nomadland
As I fell in love with the American West, it was impossible not to become fascinated with the roads that lead to the many adventures beyond the horizon.
Zhao is the first woman of color to receive an Oscar nomination for best director.

These recent rural films add nuanced narratives of what it means to be rural in America. As Minari’s producer shared with the Daily Yonder
We wanted to make sure that everyone was, even in these rural areas, portrayed as people. Because we all are human beings after all. And we all come from different backgrounds and there’s no right way to human.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Total recall (Part III)

A volunteer for Gavin Newsom's "Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom" campaign texted me yesterday. They said the recall attempt is being led by a collection of anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and hardcore Trump supporters who want us to do less to fight COVID. Now matching the tone of those petitioning for the recall election, the California Governor has ramped up his campaign strategy since I last wrote about the issue weeks ago here. Now the recall is not only a partisan effort, but its led by radicals.

In my last post, I discussed a theory from an L.A. Times article that the recall campaign was rural, conservative Northern California's response to the Governor's prolonged and disproportionate lockdown of the region. Another post discussed this article and the author's firsthand experience in Colusa County. We both  noted that the article cited various sources suggesting the recall campaign was more of a mixed bag. My post ended by questioning how the Secretary of State reports the signatures and whether we could see where the petitioners are from. I wanted to know if the backlash was truly regional. 

Since my last post, the Secretary of State filed a new status report showing the most recent tally of signatures from each county (the next and final tally will be reported on April 19, 2021). As of March 11, 2021, Los Angeles County has the highest number of signatures at 181,846. That figure is not surprising purely considering LA county's massive population. Indeed, the only counties providing six-digit numbers are in Southern California: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego. 

However, the picture of the recall in California looks different when you see the number of signatures per thousand residents in each county. As shown in this Redding Record Searchlight article, the map of support for the recall practically flips from Southern to Northern California. The report confirms that the highest per capita clusters of signatures came from rural communities. The Record Searchlight article notes:

At the top of the list supporting the recall are six counties accounting for at least three times the number of valid signatures expected compared to their populations. Between them, those counties — Placer, Tuolumne, Siskiyou, Sierra, Calaveras and Amador — delivered 58,329 valid signatures.
That county breakdown supports the theory that the recall campaign is coming from rural Northern and Eastern California along the Nevada border.

Just as the recall effort enters the final stretch, the state's COVID numbers are drastically improving. Today, Governor Newsom tweeted that California has administered more than twenty million vaccinations and the lowest positivity rate in the country. At this pace, the Governor announced his plan to fully reopen by June 15.

Winning on the ballot was an uphill battle for Newsom's opponents before there was a plan to reopen. If the state reopens on June 15, the arguments for recalling the Governor might fade with the memory of the pandemic. Northern California's fight not to be forgotten in this recall election will probably have to remind some of their petitioners to show up for the ballot, too.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CXXVIII): Christians as recalcitrant on vaccines

This has been a theme in the national news the last few days.  Well, in fairness, only one of the three stories I consumed mentioned "rural," but all were focused on Christian evangelicals--mostly white--a  group often associated with rurality.  

The first story--the one that explicitly called out the rural--was from Blake Farmer, with Nashville's NPR station.  The lede for his story was:

An NPR/Marist poll found that rural, white Republicans — especially supporters of former President Trump — are among the least likely to get a vaccine. In rural Tennessee, we hear from some of them.

There are some amazing quotes in this article, but I'll focus on the ones from a few evangelical preachers who are anti-vaxxers and invoke Christianity to support their views:   

But it's rural communities where a few leaders are actively sowing doubts. They include state legislators and even a few pastors. Greg Locke is an outspoken preacher in Wilson County, Tenn., who peppers his sermons with mocking questions.

FARMER: People say, well, what are you going to do when they make the vaccine mandatory? And we'll tell them to take a hike like I've been telling them to take a hike. That's what I will do.

FARMER: Southern states where vaccination rates are lowest have seen ministers as key allies, but it's almost entirely Black churches agreeing to hold town halls or vaccine events. Pastor Omaran Lee has been working with churches and says the concerns in Black congregations aren't that different from what he hears from rural white communities.

OMARAN LEE: We don't trust the government, and we don't trust Joe Biden is what he said, right? Well, six months ago, it was, we don't trust the government, and we don't trust Donald Trump, right? Any time you have a marginalized person, you have people who are left out, they're going to be skeptical.

Two other stories, another on NPR and one in the New York Times, focused on Christian evangelicals without the rural angle specifically mentioned.  These stories suggest that national evangelical figures like Franklin Graham are supporting the vaccination campaign.  And here's a Politico story from last month on "selling" the vaccine to rural America.  Indeed, a quick search reveals lots of stories on the top of rural vaccine hesitancy, dating back to the vaccine's roll out in December.  

Friday, April 2, 2021

Rural in Biden's big infrastructure plan

 This is from NPR's report Wednesday, following the plan's announcement:  

Also, upgrading housing, schools and hospitals - a lot of focus on union jobs and helping underserved communities, both urban and rural. It specifically talks about trying to entice manufacturers to areas affected by a loss of coal jobs and helping address racial inequities by reconnecting neighborhoods that were cut off by previous highway-building.
Tamara Keith interviewed former U.S. Senator from North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, for the story:
HEIDI HEITKAMP: You get a bridge, and you get a bridge, and you get a bridge, and you get a road, and you get a hospital (laughter). It's the Oprah of infrastructure.

Keith also talked to Reverend William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign and asked him why Biden shouldn't do a little at a time, be piecemeal in the approach.  

WILLIAM BARBER:  Where you do the roads, but you don't prioritize rural and urban areas. Or you do the bridges, but you don't look at environmentally sustainable infrastructure jobs and the health care and the public health infrastructure and the training and the capacity. It's not or; it's and. It's and.

NPR ran another story on the plan by Kirk Siegler, who reports from out west.  That story featured the rural angle more prominently, but I have not been able to find a transcript of it online.  

Here's what the New York Times and the Washington Post had to say about the infrastructure bill.  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

On rural lawyering--before and during the pandemic

Earlier this week, I was delighted to welcome 11 lawyers (10 of them UC Davis Law school alums) to my Law and Rural Livelihoods class to talk to the students about their careers and practices.   Four are in private practice, two work in county counsel offices, one is a tribal court judge, and the others do a range of public interest work.  They came to us (virtually, of course) from as far away as Del Norte County on the Oregon state line and as far south as San Luis Obispo County (SLO), specifically the communities of Atascadero and Avila.  

Here are just a few of the takeaways from the conversation. 

  • Physical geography matters/can be a barrier:  The "grade" b/w "north county" and "south county" in San Luis Obispo County is significant for many who live there.  Folks in "south county," e.g., San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, don't like to travel the grade, for example, to reach an attorney in "north county," and vice versa.  The attorney in Ukiah, the county seat of Mendocino County, said the same phenomenon (aversion to a "grade") applied there, as between Ukiah and Willets, where there was formerly a courthouse.  
  • One attorney practicing in Avila, in SLO County, shares an office with her husband, a vineyard manager.  They have converted the office of an old plant nursery for this purpose.  
  • The pandemic brought a 3- month closure to activity in the SLO County.  Then requirements to notice everything twice were imposed.  Now more people are "showing up" for hearings because they can hop on Zoom.  Previously, they would have had to take a half a day (at least) off work to come to the court house. 
  • A big issue for estate planning attorneys in rural areas is how to divvy up farm and ranch land; what is a fair way to allocate that sort of wealth?
  • The number of appearances by out-of-county attorneys in Lake County has risen since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • A public interest attorney working in the Sacramento Valley said she deals mostly with wage theft issues.  
  • A tribal judge talked about the resources he has to allocate to support entire families, not just to "throw the book" of punitive criminal law at them. 
  • There is no e-filing in Humboldt County, and it has only recently begun in Mendocino County.  
  • In the "emerald triangle," nearly every matter that comes in is touched in one way or another by the marijuana trade/marijuana growing business.  
  • Public interest attorneys who serve several rural and frontier counties from a relatively urban locale, e.g., Redding, Eureka, have seen some benefits from digital access to legal services for those living in more remote parts of their service area.  This is because those living hours from the legal aid office are not nudged out by those who live much closer and don't have to get up as early to get in a physical queue.  When all consultations are online, those living in remote and distant locales--assuming they have adequate internet/broadband connections--have equal opportunity for access with those living just down the street from the regional/relatively urban office.  

STEM programs for girls in rural America

Growing up in Colusa County, a USDA designated nonmetro county with a population of roughly 21,000 people, I was not able to participate in any STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. The first time I heard of STEM was at Boston College, where my roommate was in the school’s science program and part of Women in STEM, an organization fostering the role of women in STEM fields. As a political science major at Boston College, I was not involved in STEM programs and did not take any STEM courses beyond graduation requirements. However, I can’t help but question whether I would have chosen to pursue a career in STEM had I been exposed in middle school or high school.

This week, I read a few news articles on STEM camps and programs for girls in rural American counties. The first was about a free summer camp for middle school girls in rural East Tennessee. Roane State Community College holds the STEM program at two different campuses in Scott and Cumberland Counties. Scott County has roughly 22,000 residents, while Cumberland County has just over 60,000. The camp lasts three weeks and teaches girls activities like coding, virtual reality, and robotics. Girls who previously attended the camp loved it. One camper said that since attending, she now hopes to become a Vet and learned how to make prosthetics for animals with 3D printing.

The second article, in The Bakersfield Californian, highlights the Women’s and Girls Fund grantees in Kern County. The Women’s and Girls’ Fund is part of the Kern Community Foundation, a community nonprofit that awards charitable funds to local organizations to help improve Kern County. The Women’s and Girls’ Fund operates to empower women and girls in the county.

The Women’s and Girls’ Fund awarded $25,000 to two STEM groups. Mighty in STEM Sisters was one of the recipients; the group will focus on communities in Eastern Kern County with “limited enhanced educational opportunities for girls” and expose them to STEM fields like physics, aerospace, and robotics.

The second recipient was the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Educational Services Foundation for its Girls Excelling in Math and Science program (Gems). Gems is a year-long program for fourth and fifth grade Hispanic students and is led by California State University, Bakersfield female STEM majors.

I think these programs are perfect for rural communities and can give girls important opportunities that could change the trajectory of their future. These programs can also help fill the STEM gap for girls and young women. The STEM Gap, according to Forbes, represents the fact that “girls and young women remain less likely to pursue education and careers in” STEM. The Forbes article discusses an interesting Microsoft study, which found that “over 75% of girls who participate in hands-on STEM activities outside the classroom feel a sense of empowerment.” There is no question that this gap is larger in rural parts of the country, where similar hands-on STEM programs are less prevalent than in urban settings. Accordingly, programs like those in rural Eastern Tennessee and Kern County can help young girls feel empowered and encouraged to take part in STEM.

Looking back, I wish that there were STEM programs for young girls in my rural county. I would have certainly taken part and know many of my friends and classmates would have as well. And who knows, maybe I would have pursued an entirely different career path had I been exposed to STEM before attending university. I hope similar programs continue to gain popularity in rural America.