Virginia Tech®home

IPG Newsletter October 2019

Institute for Policy and Governance October 2019 Newsletter

Tidings: From the Director

The Enduring Power and Danger of the ‘Deep Story’    

By Max Stephenson Jr
Max Stephenson

The Institute’s Community Change Collaborative (CCC) consists of an interdisciplinary group of graduate students and faculty from multiple colleges at Virginia Tech who share an interest in examining the dynamics of economic and social change. That common focus has led to work with several small communities located in Appalachia that have been devastated by the ongoing decline of the coal and tobacco industries in the region.[1] These towns have taken up the challenge of finding new paths forward as they confront ongoing population decreases, youth flight and a difficult opioid crisis. Such trials have been exacerbated by the fact that many of these communities’ citizens have chosen to believe President Donald Trump’s assertion that the coal industry will return at his behest. These citizens also believe that national government policies and, especially, its support of specific minorities, have occasioned the crisis in their way of life, rather than a range of plausible other factors, including growing global demand for less expensive natural gas and, increasingly, solar and wind energy.

Trump’s supporters in Appalachia are not unique in accepting this narrative as a way to make sense of their situations. Arlie Hochschild has argued on the basis of an intensive six-year engagement with 60 Louisiana Tea Party members that those citizens have unquestioningly accepted a story concerning the difficult economic and social changes that have beset their beloved bayou community in recent decades. These shifts, they contended, were the result of the federal government in the guise particularly of the Democratic Party and of individuals they labeled “line-cutters”: women, minorities, immigrants, and refugees receiving special attention from that government. Hochschild found that the individuals she came to know clung to this view, even when it did not fit their lived experience.[2]

(Click here to continue)

Project Updates

David Moore, IPG Senior Research Associate, serves as the Project Director for TAP’s SwiftStart program, a partnership between the IPG, Total Action for Progress, New River Community Action and regional Workforce Investment Board.  TAP helps individuals and families achieve economic and personal independence through education, employment, affordable housing, and safe and healthy environments. This October, Total Action for Progress (TAP) was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to assist families in Greater Roanoke, the New River Valley, and Alleghany Highlands by providing career services and job training to 120 women. The new initiative will target women in recovery with a history of opioid use disorder and women responsible for financially sustaining a household affected by the opioid crisis.  Additional partners in the RESTORE project include New River Valley Community Services, Alleghany Highlands Community Services, Bradley Free Clinic and Carilion Clinic.  VTIPG’s Mary Beth Dunkenberger will lead the program evaluation for the effort.  This $500,000 grant is 100% federally funded by the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.

Mary Beth Dunkenberger and Kathy Hosig, Director of  the Center for Public Health Practice and Research, are representing Virginia Tech on the recently formed Virginia Higher Education Opioid Consortium (VHEOC).  The VHEOC is under contract with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to provide guidance and support to the state and  regional Community Service Boards (CSBs) to access research and technical assistance funding for efforts to mitigate the ongoing opioid crisis. 

 Acknowledgements & Accomplishments

ASPECT Phd and current Faculty Instructor in the Department of Religion and Culture Jordan Laney (former active member of CCC and recent CCC Faculty Forum speaker) was recently selected as the inaugural Neil Rosenburg Bluegrass Scholar, an award given by the International Bluegrass Music Association and the highest scholarly honor one can receive in the genre.  Congratulations, Jordan!

Lara Nagle, IPG Community-Based Learning Projects manager, was recently selected to participate in the 2019-20 Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program (WLMP), sponsored by the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech.  This program provides a cohort-based experience for post-masters professionals via a series of sessions on topics related to their professional development.  Congratulations, Lara!

For the next year, Jake Keyel (who successfully defended his dissertation in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization program in July with Professor Max Stephenson Jr. serving as his committee chair), will be a postdoctoral research associate with the Calhoun Center for Higher Education Innovation here at Virginia Tech. Jake will be working on a report, workshop and book bringing together a number of individuals from academia, industry, K-12 and elsewhere to understand the dynamics of adaptive lifelong learning better and to imagine how to encourage it in the 21st century.  Congratulations, Jake!

Bryce Hoflund, who worked with IPG in 2005-2008 and received her PhD in Public Administration and Public Affairs from Virginia Tech - SPIA, was recently awarded the prestigious Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska Chair of Health Care Administration and Policy position.  This post allows for increased opportunities in the areas of food and health in teaching, research, and service.  Congratulations, Professor Hoflund!

IPG Project Associate Laura Nelson completed her PhD preliminary exam in Human Development and Family Science last semester. She will be completing her dissertation work in rural Vermont where she will be investigating maternal substance use disorders. Her primary focus is to understand better the intersection of motherhood, kinship care, and the unique circumstances that women with substance use disorders experience. Through this research she hopes to be able to provide insight into the importance of gendered approaches to substance use treatment.

 News & Events

Members of the Community Change Collaborative and Dr. Max Stephenson of VT-IPG have enjoyed learning about and supporting the mission of the newly formed non-profit, Diamonds in the Ruff of Virginia, Inc. (DITR).  DITR screens and trains shelter dogs to perform as emotional/companion dogs, or tracks the dogs so that they receive additional training to become therapy or service dogs, for people in need.  According to the organization’s website, “[t]here is a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the far-reaching positive benefits of human-animal interactions. Amongst animals, dogs are unique in their ability to bond and to work with us, making them ideal partners in health and wellness.”  VT-IPG has facilitated several meetings with the organization’s staff and Board to guide strategic funding decisions and stakeholder development. DITR Board Chair Angie Leonard remarked that they “appreciate the work of IPG to help the organization transition to a sustainable model so that the very important people and dogs, all with substantial needs, are able to become connected."  

Clapton provides a helpful “hand” following a DITR meeting with appreciative onlookers Lara Nagle (left) and Beng Abella Lipsey (right) of VT-IPG/CCC.
Clapton provides a helpful “hand” following a DITR meeting with appreciative onlookers Lara Nagle (left) and Beng Abella Lipsey (right) of VT-IPG/CCC. Photo by Krin Collins.

According to Leonard, Clapton (pictured) is a Saint Francis Service Dog who works for a young man with autism. His canine training began through the Bland Prison Pup Program and his high-intensity training occurred with Tiffany Moeltner, Executive Director of Diamonds in the Ruff (DITR). A part of DITR’s mission is to provide shelter dogs with potential for service work to agencies like Saint Francis, a Roanoke-based non-profit. Clapton is a life changer for his beneficiary, Joshua, as he performs daily tasks such as opening doors, carrying groceries, and helping with laundry. Clapton also alleviates Joshua’s anxiety when going to the doctor or weathering severe storms.  Clapton has also facilitated numerous positive social interactions for Joshua, as people always want to learn more about his service dog.

Thanks to the hard work of IPG Senior Research Associate David Moore, a TAP Book Depository has been installed for Virginia Tech at 201 West Roanoke Street, Blacksburg, VA.  To learn more about this great program (and perhaps donate a few books of your own) click here

 Conference & Print Representation

An article detailing the institute’s work entitled Evaluating and Informing the Local Government–Nonprofit Relationship: Cross-Sector Partnerships in Loudoun County, Virginia appears in Volume 9, issue 3 of the Journal for Nonprofit Educational Leadership.  Congratulations to IPG Associate Director Mary Beth Dunkenberger and IPG Assistant Business Manager and Program Research Associate Elizabeth Allen!

Neda Moayerian and Lara Nagle

So proud of Lara Nagle (IPG Community-Based Learning Projects Manager) and Neda Moayerian (IPG Affiliated Graduate Student) for their hard work!

They represented the Institute at the UEDA Summit because our Community Change Collaborative was selected as a finalist in the University Economic Development Association’s 2019 Awards of Excellence competition.  This is a tribute especially to the interdisciplinary group of graduate students involved in the initiative.  

Congratulations to Anna Erwin and Max Stephenson Jr., whose article, entitled "Farmworker Justice, Faith, and Governance: A Critical Realist Analysis of one FBO’s Participatory Initiative" has now been published. Great job!

 Faculty Spotlight

Melony A. Price-Rhodes
Melony A. Price-Rhodes

Dr. Melony A. Price-Rhodes, Senior Program Director at IPG, had a long career in industry with extensive law enforcement experience, prior to her wearing many hats in her adventures with VT that began in 1996 as a graduate student and research assistant while in VT’s MPA program, and project staff with the Center of Public Administration and Policy (CPAP).

She is the long termed Principal Investigator and Project Director for the Federal Reimbursement Unit (FRU), a team comprised of research faculty and staff, spanning more than 24 years in providing human services expertise to Fairfax County, VA in the field of child welfare and technical assistance activities.  In FY19, the FRU had a fiscal impact on the County of more than $1.1M, with the goal of reducing local expenditures and providing services to children who are in foster care or in receipt of Children’s Services Act funds with more funds reimbursed from the Federal and State Government and parent(s) of the children. 

She has experience working with a variety of public and private higher educational institutions in the US and abroad as a consultant, guest lecturer, student mentor, grant writer, Alumnae Board of Governors member, university strategic planner, and the VT NCR faculty association.  One of the projects of which she is most proud was co-creating a Bachelor of Education curriculum for Primary and Early Elementary Education approved by the Kenyan government.  That initiative is now a very successful degree program at Africa Nazarene University.

Melony earned her B.S. degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in Criminal Justice, a diploma from the A. Madley Academy of Polygraph Science and Methodology, a Masters in Public Administration, and PhD in Public Administration and Public Affairs from CPAP in the School of Public and International Affairs.  She is a founding member of a United States Secret Service task force that was dedicated to investigating organized crimes in fraud and identity theft and received a Certificate of Appreciation for her work there.

Melony’s lifelong love of photography keeps her busy when she is not working.  In continuing to develop her photography skills she participates in photo workshops and adventures domestically (to include multiple day trips aboard United States Navy carriers capturing jets breaking the sound barrier, urban exploration and night photography as well as her favorite places-Hawai’i and the Palouse area of Washington) and globally (Australia, Kenya, South Africa, Eswatini, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Great Britain) capturing images that turn her head and capture her heart.

As a volunteer, Melony has photographed many Navy events, retirements, changes of command, ship christenings and commissioning’s with many images submitted to Navy officials and Navy publications.

Her work has been displayed in multiple photography exhibitions; one piece is on display in the IPG office.  Melony has been able to photograph what very few have the opportunity to see, yet she continues to discover images literally in her backyard.

Melony is a member of the Hawai’i State Society’s Ukulele Hui and has performed at the National Air and Space Museum, the US Capitol, National Christmas Tree, welcoming veteran Honor Flights, to mention a few.

Melony and her husband, Doug, a retired NAVY Chief, have been on multiple mission trips to Africa and to Alabama to rebuild a home damaged by hurricane Wilma.  They have an upcoming mission trip to Cuba and volunteer regularly at a local foodbank.

They have a canine daughter, Kanoa Kalani, that they love dearly.  When she is not doing any of the above, you can find her on the island of Moloka’i photographing her favorite little blue boat.

i'm home i'm home.  why do i roam? so i can return to my island home.

 Student Spotlight

Garland Mason
Garland Mason

Garland Mason is in the second year of her PhD program in the department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education (ALCE). She is associated with IPG through her active engagement in the Community Change Collaborative (CCC). Garland was a member of the CCC while she completed her master’s degree in ALCE between 2014-2016 and now serves as the organization’s president. She is honored to be a part of the CCC and is grateful to its members for continually exposing her to new ideas and ways of thinking.

Garland’s research interests center on the intersection of power, knowledge, race, and nonformal education. She is particularly interested in epistemological politics surrounding land grant universities and their efforts in agricultural and community development. For her master’s thesis research, Garland conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico to explore participatory methodologies and the micro-politics of stakeholder participation in NGO-led community development. Garland graduated with her master’s degree from Virginia Tech in 2016.

Before coming back to Virginia Tech, Garland served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal with her husband Ollie. In Nepal, Garland and Ollie lived in a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas. They worked on projects related to food security and community development. These included trainings on oyster mushroom production, bio-intensive gardening, genetic improvement in goats, and youth leadership development. They also participated in all elements of Nepali village culture, including agricultural activities and community celebrations.

Before pursuing graduate education, Garland worked in the areas of food equity and beginning farmer education in Rutland County, Vermont. She and Ollie also ran their own small livestock operation, raising beef, goats, pigs and chickens for sale and lots and lots of vegetables for their own consumption. Though it feels like a former life, Garland also used to be a proficient dairy hand. During college, she took a year off to work full time on a dairy farm and in Vermont she provided relief milking services at local dairies as a side gig, giving overworked farmers a day off. She still has a special affinity for cows and dairy products.

Though she was raised in the suburbs of Boston, Garland feels more at home when she’s living rurally. She loves to swim, ride her bike, garden, cook, travel, and hang out at home with Ollie and their dog Sojho who they brought home from Nepal.

 Max Stephenson's Tidings (continued)

These claims constituted the principal elements of what Hochschild has labeled the “deep story” that fueled the Louisianans’ individual and collective rage and their anxiety about the manifest difficulties besetting their community and state. As Hochschild put it, “A deep story [or] a feels-as-if story - it’s the story that feelings tell, in the language of symbols. It removes judgment. It removes fact. It tells us how things feel.”[3]  This felt narrative suggested to her interviewees that their way of life was being undermined by national sympathy for people they considered social parasites who were receiving public support and President Barack Obama’s backing, even as the Tea Party members’ own way of life was threatened. Hochschild’s interviewees saw themselves continuing to stand in an economic line in which they perceived they never moved forward. Hochschild found, too, that this story, while widely accepted by those whom she came to know well, was not rooted in reality, nor was it coherent. Instead, it had been adopted as a way for these individuals to make sense of a complex set of changes that had beset them and their communities whose causal contours seemed opaque to them at best.

Another sociologist, Robert Wuthnow, recently came to a similar conclusion in his multi-year study involving hundreds of residents of rural communities across the United States.[4] Like Hochschild, he found that the individuals with whom he spoke felt that their way of life was under threat and that concern had led to moral outrage that had to be targeted somewhere if the question of who was to blame for such cataclysmic change was to be answered:

The moral outrage of rural America is a mixture of fear and anger. The fear is that small town ways of life are disappearing. The anger is that they are under siege. The outrage cannot be understood apart from the loyalties that rural Americans feel toward their communities. It stems from the fact that the social expectations, relationships, and obligations that constitute the moral communities they take for granted and in which they live year by year are being fundamentally fractured.[5]

Like their counterparts in Louisiana, these residents had adopted the narrative that the national government, understood narrowly as the Democratic Party, had allowed certain minority groups special advantages and those populations were undermining these citizens’ way of life. This argument closely tracked Hochschild’s finding that the individuals she followed believed that a “natural hierarchy” in their communities had been disrupted in recent decades and along with it, their shared way of life and of knowing the world:

Along with blacks and immigrants, women were also ‘line cutters,’ although in men’s minds, women tended to divide into separate mental categories, daughters, … wives or partners, … and potential rivals at work. … So, race, class, national identity, religion, region, views of gender and sexual orientation¾all these joined to reinforce a sense that outside of Louisiana, too, a precious way of life, like the nation itself, was being left behind.[6]

CCC members also have encountered this narrative, or deep story, in their work in small Appalachian communities. These findings are critical to understanding how many GOP partisans view events and why as the nation has fallen into a deepening governance crisis concerning possible impeachment of President Trump in recent days. The immediate precipitating event for the present concern about the president is the revelation in a whistleblower’s complaint that he sought to manipulate United States foreign policy for personal political gain. He did so by seeking to persuade the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in a July telephone call to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joseph Biden’s dealings with that nation, and those of his son, Hunter, while alleging that those ties were corrupt. Trump had no evidence for his assertion of corruption and his apparent decision to solicit the assistance of a foreign leader in an upcoming U.S. election (Biden is a potential rival) clearly broke the law. More, the President implicated his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr in his request for this “favor,” as he termed it, of Zelensky.[7] Meanwhile the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel, obliged by statute to share the whistleblower’s complaint with Congress, did not do so and Barr has refused to recuse himself from this matter as it is investigated by the legislature, raising profound concerns about corruption within the DOJ. The episode took on increased urgency when Trump released a rough version of the transcript of the Zelensky call whose contents revealed that the whistleblower had also alleged that some White House staff members had sought to cover up the incident.

All of this is of moment because these events precipitated additional outrage among House Democrats and their supporters, many of whom were already convinced that Trump had committed several other impeachable offenses during his tenure in office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had resisted previous calls for an impeachment inquiry, however, largely on political grounds, believing the GOP controlled Senate, which has accepted or ignored Trump’s lies and disregard for the law to date on partisan grounds, would never convict, whatever the evidence against the President. The Zelensky revelation however, convinced her to launch an inquiry formally into whether Trump should be impeached on the basis of his behavior in this case.

While these are the facts, it must be emphasized that it remains unclear whether any Trump violation(s) of law might prove sufficient to persuade Republican Senators and the president’s most fervent supporters, from whom those legislators take their cue, that he should be removed from office. The lion’s share of Republican voters has remained stalwart in support of Trump on the basis of the deep story that Hochschild, Wuthnow and the CCC have all encountered in their research and work.

Similarly, the conservative media has staunchly supported the president in the Ukraine matter. Here, for example, is how Michael Savage, a conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter, described the impeachment inquiry, “It’s not about Trump is it? It’s about us. It’s about our love for America. It’s about our love for our own borders, language and culture.”[8] Savage also said on September 25, “[Trump] is already in the hay wagon on the way to the guillotine because of the fascist vermin in the media.”[9] Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh, another conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter, offered the following concerning the President’s solicitation of the support of a foreign leader in investigating a possible opponent by alleging, without evidence, that “Joe Biden may be the most corrupt politician in Washington bar none.”[10]

Savage appealed to the deep story when he did not address directly the allegations against Trump for allegedly misusing his office and abusing the public trust, choosing instead to seek to persuade his listeners that any allegation concerning the president must be considered not only as partisan, if not fascist, but as an attack against them and against their way of life and values more generally by “vermin.”  For his part, Limbaugh, for the same reasons, suggested without foundation that Biden, a figure who might displace Trump and who is linked to the Obama administration, must be wholly corrupt.

This all points to the power of the deep story for millions of citizens in many American communities, including a large majority across Appalachia. To date, Trump has been able to call on the status and economic anxiety that has fueled that narrative among many GOP partisans as a bulwark against all criticisms of his attacks on the rule of law, freedom of the press and of speech and on the human and civil rights of refugees and immigrants as well as members of other minority groups. Whether that will continue in the present case of his purported abuse of his elective office remains to be seen. But it seems clear that any result other than the predicted outcome of Senate acquittal on a party-line vote should impeachment occur will hinge on whether GOP voters come to view the President’s actions objectively, rather than via the lens of the deep story. If those citizens continue to believe the President and GOP represent their means to protest change and to stymie it, irrespective of whether that view bears any relationship to reality, they may well countenance Trump’s behavior in this episode. If not, the nation may yet turn the corner and begin to move toward a politics of deliberative possibility in lieu of its current politics of hate mongering, division and lies. As we have found in our CCC work, the same question now hangs in the balance across the Appalachian region as well.


[1] Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance, “The Community Change Collaborative,”, Accessed September 27, 2019.

[2] Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, New York: The New Press, 2018. 

[3] Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land, p.135.

[4] Wuthnow, Robert. The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

[5] Wuthnow, The Left Behind, p. 6.

[6] Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land, pp. 258-259

[7] Goldberg, Michelle. “Just how Corrupt is Bill Barr?” The New York Times, September 26, 2019,  Accessed September 26, 2019. 

[8] Peters, Jeremy W. “‘Everything You’re Seeing Is Deception’: How Right-Wing Media Talks About Impeachment, ” The New York Times, September 27, 2019,   Accessed September 27, 2019.

[9] Peters, “‘Everything You’re Seeing Is Deception,’” September 27, 2019.

[10] Peters, “‘Everything You’re Seeing Is Deception,’” September 27, 2019. 

 Commentaries & Essays


A commentary series authored by VTIPG Director Max Stephenson

July 15:  The Human Cost of a Politics of Lies

July 29:  Trump’s Dangerous Game

August 12:  Eroding Human Rights and the Nation’s Collective Moral Imagination

August 26:  Trump’s Siren Song of Hate

September 9:  Liberalism and the Challenge of Socially Sanctioned Cruelty

September 23:  Pseudotransformational Leadership in Action

October 7:  Evangelicals, Demographic and Economic Change and Injustice


Online essay series hosted by VTIPG and edited by Professor Max Stephenson Jr., written by graduate students across the University to reflect on their ongoing work in governance and policy related concerns.

August 29:  Institutional inclusion and the question of epistemic abundance in the neoliberal academy: A critical analysis

September 5:  Can Administrative Burdens in the Admissions Process Hinder or Prevent Undocumented Students’ Access to Higher Education?

September 12:  A Reflection on Competing Perspectives on International Aid in Nepal

September 19:  Reflections on Women Pioneers in Rocket Science