Hillbillies in Higher Ed: Confronting Anti-Rural Bias in Academia

As the academic community continues to grapple with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, a often-overlooked demographic remains marginalized: rural students. Despite comprising nearly 20% of the US population, rural individuals are vastly underrepresented in higher education, with only 12% of rural students earning a bachelor’s degree compared to 34% of urban students. This disparity is not solely due to lack of access or resources, but also stems from a pervasive anti-rural bias that permeates academia.

The term “hillbilly” has become a pejorative, conjuring images of backwardness, ignorance, and poverty. This stereotype is perpetuated in popular culture, from films like “Deliverance” to TV shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies.” However, this caricature is far from the reality of rural life, where individuals are just as intelligent, hardworking, and deserving of respect as their urban counterparts.

In academia, this bias manifests in various ways. Rural students may be seen as less capable or less prepared for college-level coursework, leading to lower expectations and fewer opportunities. Professors may assume that rural students are not interested in pursuing higher education, or that they are not “college material.” These biases can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where rural students are discouraged from pursuing higher education or are not provided with the support they need to succeed.

Moreover, the lack of rural representation in academia means that rural perspectives and experiences are often excluded from research and policy discussions. This omission can have significant consequences, as policies and interventions are designed without consideration for the unique challenges and opportunities facing rural communities.

It is time for academia to confront its anti-rural bias and work towards creating a more inclusive environment for rural students. This requires recognizing the value and diversity of rural experiences, providing targeted support and resources for rural students, and incorporating rural perspectives into research and policy discussions. By doing so, we can work towards a more equitable and just higher education system that truly serves all students, regardless of their zip code.

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