Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Our Ohio Renewal Tackles Significant Problems in Ohio

After spending some time in the flourishing city of San Francisco with his wife Usha, J.D. Vance has returned to his home state of Ohio. He has begun creating his nonprofit, Our Ohio Renewal, to combat many of the issues he grew up with.

“I just think those of us who think we have something to offer have a responsibility to try to help,” Vance said in a December Spokesman Review article.

Vance aims to focus on combating issues of the opioid epidemic and work development, which in his opinion, are connected to each other and are of top importance in Ohio.

Our Ohio Renewal Logo. CC Image Courtesy of the Our Ohio Renewal website.

In an interview with the Philanthropy Roundtable Organization, Vance opened up about how he aims to improve such significant and complex issues with the nonprofit.

“On the opioid-abuse front, we’re identifying the things that have been tried, from prevention programs to physician training to treatment options, and trying to understand how well they are working…” Vance explained.

For workforce development, Vance centered in on the importance of diversifying employment positions and the issue of a volatile economy.

“Creative destruction opens opportunities for people to do new things, to contribute to the economy in new ways, and to have new jobs that are just as important and just as dignified as the jobs that people had years ago…” Vance noted. “We need to have plans that include trades jobs, and advanced manufacturing, and manual work of many kinds.”

Vance also touched on the importance of community within the interview. To him, community is a large component of a flourishing state. Community in businesses and neighborhoods provides people with areas of support and a sense of purpose. He aims to improve this feeling of support with Our Ohio Renewal.

Vance believes that improving domestic and familial conditions can have a large impact on the overall state’s success.

Author and founder of Our Ohio Renewal, J.D. Vance. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

“When kids grow up in very unstable families, they are more likely to bring instability to the next generation when they make their own family,” Vance explained. “They’re less likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to be employed as an adult.”

Vance aims for a more hands-on approach with his nonprofit. Instead of just policy changes, Vance believes that involving the community can be more effective.

“Where civil society can be most helpful is in giving people real networks and social groups that can support them when things are tough—offer them access to better opportunities, to jobs, to activities in their community,” Vance said.

Although Our Ohio Renewal is in its early planning stages, Vance is committed to helping the people of his hometown state. By moving back to Ohio, he can fully immerse himself in the problems at hand. To him, falling back on the government is not the best solution.

“These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else,” Vance contends. “We created them, and only we can fix them.”

Childhood Trauma Shown to Shorten Lifespan

“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today,” explained Dr. Robert Block, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a Ted Talk given by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on the effects of childhood trauma throughout one’s lifetime, she revealed that childhood trauma increases the risk for seven of the ten leading causes of death in the USA.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving her Ted Talk. CC Image Courtesy of the Nadine Burke Harris website.

For those who are exposed to high levels of childhood trauma, life expectancy is 20 years shorter. They are also three times more likely to develop heart disease and lung cancer.

Dr. Burke Harris then summarized what she has been studying: adverse childhood experiences, referred to as ACEs, and their effect on health throughout one’s lifetime. ACEs include:

  • physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • physical or emotional neglect
  • parental mental illness
  • substance dependence
  • incarceration
  • parental separation or divorce
  • domestic violence

For every ACE that applied to the participant, they would get a point on their ACE score.

According to the study, 67% of the population has experienced at least one ACE.

The study then revealed that the higher one’s ACE score, the worse their physical and mental health outcomes tend to be.

It has been shown that growing up in lower income households often presents more severe levels of trauma for children. Unfortunately, this is a common dilemma for many. One out of every five children is born into poverty, and the cycle is difficult to break.

As seen with our 2017 Go Big Read bookHillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance grew up in a low-income household, facing adversities, which impacted his life as an adult.

Author J.D. Vance pictured with his grandmother. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Not only is it more likely for children in poor families to posses a high ACEs score, but it has also been noted that being raised in a low income household disturbs children’s brain development and academic performance.

In his memoir, Vance explained that when his mother moved him away from the comfort of his grandparents, he was unable to sleep, had depressed feelings, and his grades plummeted.

According to an article on the effect of childhood poverty on development and educational outcomes, children in chronically poor families have “lower cognitive and academic performance” and higher levels of behavior problems than children who are not poor.

It is painfully clear that childhood trauma and the environment that the child matures in can have a lifetime effect on their health and development. Although there have been large numbers of studies on these effects, finding a solution is not as straightforward.

However, Dr. Burke Harris remains hopeful.

“This is treatable. This is beatable… We are the movement.”

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

The Cycle of Poverty in Appalachia Continues

“Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis.”

According to “The Original Underclass,” an article published in The Atlantic in September 2016, the number of out-of-wedlock births and unemployed males have increased dramatically. Along with reports of high rates of opiate addiction and rising mortality rates, working class white people in America seem to be in trouble.

In the 1950s, the white working class prospered from performing physical labor post-World War II. Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance explains that his grandparents moved from Kentucky to Ohio in pursuit of more opportunities. They escaped the poor conditions of Kentucky and raised a middle class family in Ohio, like many families did at the time.

This opportunity for so many following the war would not last forever.

The hope of achieving permanent upward mobility was not as easy as it seemed to be in previous years. The areas that people moved to after World War II, like the Rust Belt, stopped showing great opportunity. J.D. Vance tells the story of the diminishing idea of the American Dream within his memoir.

The Rust Belt region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Working class Americans in the Appalachia region, where J.D. Vance spent time growing up, are especially struggling. Appalachian residents now find it very hard to break their cycle of ongoing poverty.

“I am a hill person. So is much of America’s white working class,” Vance writes. “And we hill people aren’t doing very well.”

Although Vance managed to escape this detrimental cycle with the help of his grandmother, it is extremely hard for most to find resources to succeed while living in a poor environment.

“Many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them,” Vance explained.

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

A New York Times article from 2015 reviewed a study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren which exposed a brutal truth about upward mobility: children who grow up in poor neighborhoods instead of moving to areas with more opportunities are more likely to remain low-income. These effects can last for several generations.

Overall, the study concluded that what matters in terms of upward mobility is not just the quality of one’s neighborhood, but also the number of childhood years he/she is exposed to it. The earlier they move out of poor conditions, the more likely they are to succeed.

For many who are forced to live in these sinking areas, the idea of the American Dream is diminishing. The Appalachia region consists of some of the poorest areas in the United States.

For Vance, fixing these deeply rooted issues is not going to be fixed by the government alone.

“These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else,” Vance contends. “We created them, and only we can fix them.”

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Heroin Crisis is Taking Lives of Many in Appalachia

“The worst part of overdosing was waking up,” claimed a West Virginia heroin user.

A recent New Yorker article follows the lives of several people in West Virginia, exposing the widespread problem of heroin usage in poorer areas of the Appalachian region.

The Appalachia region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A few of the Appalachian states consist of North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Mississippi, possessing some of the poorest regions in the country.

West Virginia, an Appalachian state, has the highest overdose death rate in the country.

What used to be a problem with largely prescribed opiate drugs has now pivoted towards a large increase in the use of heroin.

Heroin has become a cheap alternative to prescription pain medication to many people. A recent drop in the use of opioid prescription medications coincided with a spike in heroin usage.

An oxycodone pill now costs around eighty dollars, while a dose of heroin costs a mere ten.

In the memoir Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance notes several times that prescription drugs were a problem not only in his town, but in his household, with his mother being an addict. He also noted that in his town, it was understood that heroin was thought to be more dangerous than prescription medications; it was a sign of desperation.

Along with the spike in heroin usage, the amount of overdoses has increased immensely as well.

“They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die,” a medic noted.

According to the New Yorker article, nearly all of the addicts in West Virginia are white, born in the area, and have modest to little income. High levels of poverty and joblessness produce psychological distress, which in turn, can be numbed by the use of heroin and prescription drugs. Unfortunately for many of these heroin users, it often leads to overdose.

Heroin can be found in powder and pill form. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s the scary part- that it’s becoming the norm,” a West Virginia resident said within the article, referring to heroin overdose.

The widespread and detrimental use of heroin on a person can also affect the family as a whole. As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, many children are often exposed to the traumatic effects of having a heroin addict for a parent. A report on child welfare and substance abuse claims that being raised by a drug-dependent parent leads to:

  • poor cognitive, delayed social and emotional development
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • other mental health symptoms
  • physical health issues
  • substance-use problems for the child

For families like J.D. Vance’s, growing up around drugs is a popular issue in their area. Recently, the drug of choice seems to be heroin, in replacement of prescription opioids.

“Heroin has become a social contagion,” claimed psychotherapist Peter Callahan.

How to solve the lethal problem? According to the New Yorker article, it will take time. However, the state of West Virginia has begun to treat the heroin epidemic as a public-health problem and aims to take further steps to diminish this deadly drug that takes the lives of so many Appalachia residents.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

What Migration Means for America

“The people who are able to leave very often do so,” explained Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance on leaving his hometown of Middletown, Ohio.

When discussing migration, one is forced to consider the reasons that people decide to leave and the costs that come with doing so. Framed by the greater migration of Appalachian residents to cities in the Rust Belt following World War II, author J.D. Vance chronicles his grandparents’ move from Jackson, Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, and the adjustments they had to make in their lives away from the community in which they grew up. Vance himself left his hometown as an adult, first serving in the Marine Corps, then moving in order to further his education at Ohio State University and Yale, finally settling in San Francisco for career opportunities.

In March of this year, Vance announced in a New York Times Op-Ed that he and his family would be moving to Columbus, Ohio to found a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic that has spread across the United States. In explaining this decision, he mentions that geographic mobility in the United States has been declining over the last thirty years. The people who move to those areas are those who have the means and skills to be successful in areas of the country where economic opportunities abound, leaving behind struggling towns.

CC Image courtesy of David Mark on Pixabay. Columbus, Ohio.

Vance hopes that by moving back to Ohio, he can help counter this trend sometimes referred to as the “brain drain”. He writes about another friend, Ami Vitori Kimener, who is in a similar transition. Kimener moved back to Middletown, Ohio, after graduating from Georgetown University, to start a business and work to revitalize the city. Yet Vance also states that “not every town can or should be saved”, alluding to the greater debate over what should be done about the towns around the country with few economic prospects and the people who still live in them.

Author J.D. Vance. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

An article published in The Atlantic last week by Brian Alexander engages with this debate from the perspective of those people who do still live in those areas. Alexander, like Vance, writes about the decrease in internal migration in the United States while acknowledging that researchers are not sure what this means for the future of the country. More importantly, he examines why people in “dying towns” simply do not pick up and move to an area with more opportunity.

Author Brian Alexander. CC Image Courtesy of the Brian Alexander Website.

There are various reasons and factors that go into peoples’ calculations about where to live, some external and some internal. Any solution to this issue will likely complex and nuanced, and studying these factors is an important first step in that direction.

Morgan Sederburg
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Men Disappear from Rust Belt as Unemployment and Addiction Rise

“They’re all on dope or they’re dying up here,” one Ohio woman says of men in a recent Atlantic piece, investigating the burden of male demise in the Rust Belt region (theatlantic.com).

Many cities in West Virginia and elsewhere have deindustrialized. CC Image courtesy of Tim Kiser on Wikimedia Commons.

As the article explains, the exodus of manufacturing jobs starting in the 1950s and 60s in industrialized regions of the Northeast, Midwest, and Appalachia sowed the seeds for a major crisis among Rust Belt males. As stable, respectable jobs departed, many faced chronic unemployment and/or completely departed from the workforce, discouraged from continued rejection. This is especially true in areas of Ohio, like Middletown, where Go Big Read author J.D. Vance grew up. In regions in southern Ohio, 42% of men are either jobless or out of the labor market, compared to the national average rate of roughly 20% (theatlantic.com). For those that found jobs, it was not in Dayton, Utica, or Pittsburgh, but in more service-based economies like Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York. Formerly impressive industrial cities of Detroit, Gary, Buffalo, Charleston (West Virginia), and Cincinnati now have deteriorating populations. In Detroit alone, the population loss has been astounding- diminishing from 1,850,000 to 675,000 over the course of the last 60 years (detroitnews.com). For those men that remained in Rust Belt cities and small towns, without opportunity for retraining, education, or employment, many turned to drugs, particularly opioids. As drug abuse has increased in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, many men eventually lose their lives.

Detroit by the 1880s had emerged as a growing center for industry. In 1880, it was the 18th largest city in the U.S.

The Detroit skyline in 1942. At the time, it was the 4th largest city in the country and had booming industry.

Detroit, today, functions as the symbolic city of the Rust Belt. It is now not even in the top 20 most populous cities. CC Image courtesy of Albert Duce on Wikimedia Commons.

As the article highlights, deindustrialization, unemployment, and drug addiction have the Rust Belt devoid of men. For instance, in Kanawha County, West Viriginia, an area that has seen upwards of a 55% loss in manufacturing and some of the most concentrated rates of opioid overdoses in the country, women outnumber men 100:93 (whitehouse.gov). This is a dramatic divergence from the natural rate of roughly 100:99 and this trend is widespread throughout the region. With such losses, women in particular – wives, mothers, sisters, and partners of the unemployed and addicted men – are left to “pick up the pieces,” raising children and supporting households financially (theatlantic.com). The region has seen declining marriage rates and increasing proportions of single-parent homes.

Opioids have become an epidemic in recent years, particularly in the Rust Belt.

This single reality is hard for many: lack of second incomes, emotional support, and shared childcare responsibilities weigh heavy on an individual. Many women have defaulted on their mortgages after their partner’s overdose, while others care for upwards of five children by themselves. For anybody, whether man or woman, these kinds of Rust Belt burdens are overwhelming. In this year’s Go Big Read book, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D.’s Mamaw lived out this reality, supporting her grandchildren while her own daughter battled addiction. This immense responsibility always weighed on her.

Hopefully, heightened attention to the region’s struggles and the increasing need for action against opioid abuse will begin to reverse these heavy burdens many Rust Belt women face.

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant

Integrate Latest Go Big Read Book into your Course!

On Tuesday, Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced the title of the forthcoming 2017-18 Go Big Read book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Seeing as a key component of the Go Big Read program is the incorporation of the book into academic courses across campus, it’s once more time to consider curricular integration! Some classes will use the book on their required reading lists, while others will offer themes related to the book as optional topics for papers and presentations. The possibilities are truly endless. Furthermore, all students who are enrolled in these participating courses will receive a free copy of the book and will benefit from the critical thinking and discussions the text may inspire.

Last year’s text–Pulitzer Prize winning text, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American Cityby esteemed sociologist and UW alum Matthew Desmond–was incorporated into over 100 diverse courses, ranging from Botany 265: Rainforests and Coral Reefs to Dance 011: Contemporary Dance I and from Genetics 562: Human Cytogenetics to Urban and Regional Planning 590: Making Health Matter in Planning, just to name a few.

Curricular integration and discussion is a key component of the Go Big Read program.

Students gain key critical thinking skills from reading, discussing, and completing assignments about the Go Big Read text.

Like EvictedHillbilly Elegy can be worked into a wide range of classroom spaces, including, but not limited to courses within the studies of Anthropology, Athletic Training, Biology, Communication Arts, Community and Environmental Sociology, Community and Nonprofit Leadership, Economics, Elementary Education, English, Gender and Women’s Studies, Geography, History, Human Development and Family Studies, Journalism, Landscape Architecture, Legal Studies, Management and Human Resources, Nutritional Sciences, Personal Finance, Political Science, Psychology, Real Estate and Urban Land Economics, Religious Studies, Social Welfare or Social Work, Sociology, and Statistics.

Students discuss A Tale for the Time Being, the Go Big Read book of the 2013-2014 academic year, in the classroom.

We hope to see many professors, students, and community members engaging with the text throughout next year. Support from administrators, community leaders, and professors helps to make our program impactful and relevant each year!

For more information about the book and the topics it touches, please click here.

For more information about how to integrate the text into your classroom or your programming, please click here.

 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is Chosen as the 2017-18 Go Big Read Book

Today, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor, Rebecca Blank, announced that the forthcoming 2017-2018 Go Big Read book is to be Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

“a deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures”

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance provides his personal reflection on upward mobility in America seen through the lens of a white, working-class family in the Midwest. The ninth book in the history of the Go Big Read program, this year’s selection offers “a deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures.” The author is acutely aware of the many struggles “hillbilly” populations face—having himself descended from Kentucky “hill people” and grown up in a declining Ohio steel town. (jdvance.com).

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was recently chosen as the 2017-2018 Go Big Read book.

As the official UW-Madison press release states, “Many have credited the book with providing understanding of the lives of those struggling with economic decline;” however, many critics have questioned whether the text presents an overly simplistic view of “poverty and personal responsibility” (news.wisc.edu).

J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy.

Yet, as Chancellor Blank shares, the nuances presented in the text echo the Go Big Read program’s “history of choosing books with challenging and timely topics” that  “generate a lively conversation about a set of important issues, about which people can agree or disagree” (news.wisc.edu).

We are excited to see what discussions and critical classroom engagement this book will bring to campus next year! For more information on the text and its author, please visit the news.wisc.edu.

Morgan Olsen
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Evicted Wins Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction

It is with much pride we share that this year’s Go Big Read text, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by UW alum and esteemed sociologist Matthew Desmond, has won the Pulitzer Prize.

Evicted was honored Monday as the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner in General Nonfiction. The board cited the text as “a deeply researched exposé that showed how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty” (pulitzer.org).

Students and faculty in the Sociology Department gather to hear Desmond, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, speak on campus this past fall. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

The Pulitzer Prize is one of the most esteemed honors in all of literature. Set forth in the 1904 will of Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-born, American newspaper publisher, the Prize functions as an “incentive to excellence” (pulitzer.org). Currently, there are 21 awards given each year across a variety of categories including journalism, letters, drama, and music; specific categories include, but are not limited to Breaking News Photography, Drama, Editorial Cartooning, History, Local Reporting, Music, Poetry, and Public Service Journalism. Winners of 20 of the 21 categories receive a certificate and cash reward, while the winner of the Public Service category receives the gold medal.

The Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal, awarded to winners of the Public Service category. CC Image courtesy of Fort Greene Focus on Flickr.

Congratulations to Matthew for this incredible and well deserved honor!

Morgan Olsen
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Go Big Read Art on Display in Teaching and Learning Programs Office

This past fall we shared that the Wisconsin School of Business’s direct admit LEAD course and the Go Big Read program had partnered to harness art as a means to further investigate the ideas presented in Go Big Read social justice texts. The result was 20 unique pieces of art, aimed to address social issues.

LEAD students creating their prints in Wheelhouse Studios.

In the Union’s Wheelhouse Studios last November, LEAD students drew on inspiration from historical and current social justice movement posters and evoked their own knowledge from Go Big Read texts Just Mercy and Evicted  (bus.wisc.edu). All in, 120 students implemented their creativity, collaboratively hand-making 20 beautiful posters.

One print made by LEAD students.

The artwork now hangs in the Go Big Read space, within the Teaching and Learning Programs office within Memorial Library. The prints add wonderful depth and interest to the space and speak to the Go Big Read program’s effort to stimulate campus discussions.

We are so proud to have such incredible student work gracing our walls!

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office