The article about the Western Carolina University Strategic Planning Commission caught the attention of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), a community organization whose mission is to “facilitate the beautification and revitalization of the downtown Cullowhee area extending along Old Cullowhee Road and leading up to the former main entrance to the campus of Western Carolina University.”
The article refers to a 2008 WCU strategic planning document called SWOT — Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats — that identifies, among other things, geography, location and culture as both strengths and threats.
Location is a strength, in that WNC is known for its scenic beauty. At the same time, “Limited off-campus social opportunities/venues decreases satisfaction with college experience and impedes integration of students into the community” is identified as a threat.
CuRvE believes downtown Cullowhee has the potential to be a beautiful and vibrant destination that could expand off-campus social opportunities appealing to students, community members and visitors alike. Several forces may coalesce in the near future to make the winding road framed by the Tuckaseegee River an appealing entrance to Cullowhee and WCU. There are discussions about sidewalks and streetlamps from campus to downtown Cullowhee, the Jackson County Greenway will be adjacent and connected to the area, and the River Park Committee of CuRvE has developed a conceptual drawing of a river park that could be a focal point (http://gocullowhee.org/photos/cullowhee-river-park-concep.html). Such changes can attract local businesses, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and recreation.
CuRvE’s mission explicitly builds on a recognition of the value of the natural, cultural and human attributes of Cullowhee and the surrounding area. Thus, CuRvE encourages the new Commission to take a different perspective on the final threat identified in the 2008 SWOT document, which reads, “Regional location/culture inhibits recruitment of an ethnically and racially diverse staff and faculty.”
Painting the entire region as one that inhibits the potential for diversity ignores the rich variation in human, economic, religious, cultural and bio-diversity and feeds the old stereotypes. The region where Western Carolina University has its home has a long history of Cherokee and Appalachian mountain culture as well as integration with those from other regions who have chosen western North Carolina as their home.
CuRvE encourages WCU’s Strategic Planning Commission to consider the region’s natural and cultural resources not as a liability but as a framework for developing an authentic identity that will attract students, faculty and staff and contribute significantly to the community and region.
The WCU SWOT document from 2008 can be found on the WCU website at this link: www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/oipe_SWOT_2007-08.pdf.
By Mary Jean Herzog • Guest Columnist
Mary Jean Ronan Herzog is co-Chair of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE).