Students in Lisa Di Bartolomeo’s Russian Fairy Tales class recently shared fairy tales and scary stories as a way to make real world connections to class content. (WVU Illustration/Rachel Johnson)

Community connections: Lesson for WVU students focuses on how stories, those scary and those not, can bring people together

MORGANTOWN — As the local legend goes, more than a dozen people have been murdered in Booger Hole, a small town in Clay County.

While the gory details of each murder are widely disputed, one thing all the locals can agree on is this: Booger Hole is haunted. Angry mobs, wandering travelers and Confederate soldiers are all said to have fallen victim to its evil forces.

Ahead of Halloween, Allie Douglas, a West Virginia University student from Elkview studying immunology and medical microbiology, recently stood at the front of a large lecture hall to share the stories of Booger Hole with her classmates and her professor, Lisa Di Bartolomeo, a professor of Russian and Slavic and Eastern European studies, in a class about Russian fairy tales.

“By going back into Russian history and Russian folklore we can see how many similarities there are from culture to culture, time period to time period. Hopefully, that demonstrates to people that you don’t need to hate people from another culture or another country because we all are basically the same,” Di Bartolomeo said.

With COVID-19 still creating logistical challenges in higher ed classrooms, Di Bartolomeo said she wanted to give her students an alternative to exams.

For the story assignment, she instructed her students to research local folklore and fairy tales from their hometowns in the hopes of driving connectedness within families, communities, neighborhoods and history.

“There’s no better way to appreciate one’s own culture and community than hearing other people’s stories of their own experiences both with folklore and other stuff,” Jaxon Miller, a history major from Hurricane who is also a teaching assistant for the class, said.

Di Bartolomeo said her goal, the purpose of the class, is for students to learn about Russian culture and its historical context while identifying cultural commonalities, including those close to home.

Other stories includedsome of the most notable names in Appalachian folklore like Mothman and the Flatwoods monster. Such folklore, Di Bartolomeo said, is important as an expression of human psychology and sociology.

“I’m less concerned that they memorize each Russian fairy tale, I’m much more concerned that they take away the 30,000-foot view of, ‘This is what folklore is about. This is what folklore can tell us about ourselves and about our culture,’” Di Bartolomeo said.

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