While covering the Huntingdon Borough beat, I was able to attend a meeting on the non-discrimination ordinance that is being created for Huntingdon County. From there I was able to meet a variety of people, several of whom work at Huntingdon House. I reached out to these individuals by email, and they agreed to be interviewed about their experiences living in this community and working in their field.
Tory Smith is very excited to be the new Director of Direct Services at Huntingdon House. They moved here just recently and started working at Huntingdon House on November 26th. They are used to towns like Huntingdon—they grew up in Bradford County, PA, an area smaller and more rural than here close to the New York State border. They lived in Lock Haven while attending college there and afterwards for several years, and has never lived anywhere not considered traditionally “conservative.”
“People outside of that bubble can feel really isolated,” says Smith, explaining that you can’t discard the fact that the majority of the community here is white, and that many people in this community haven’t met many queer-identified people, compared to the amount that people in larger cities would naturally come into contact with. Smith says that there is a perception that minorities in these kinds of towns often perceive themselves as being the only ones, even if that perception is untrue. This often stems from the politics of the area, and how often conservatives and Republicans are voted into office. Tory Smith feels strongly, however, that there is more diversity of thought and opinions than is found at first glance.
“When we look at intelligence within society, we fixate on this formal system of education,” says Smith. They believe that ideas about Huntingdon’s population being less intelligent than people in other places is a complete fabrication. People here, they say, have intelligence based in both formal education and experience. Furthermore, they emphasize that because of the College, much of Huntingdon’s population is extremely educated, and includes professors with PhDs.
I asked Tory Smith what it was like working in Huntingdon House and against domestic violence in this community. They say in these kinds of towns, more than in big cities, people are close-knit and have each other’s backs. This can be both helpful and problematic. It can be foundational for things like racism, where outsiders can be ostracized. On the flipside, it means that it’s effective to utilize the community’s involvement and supportive atmosphere to help the House and its mission. Smith says that Huntingdon responds very quickly to community engagement, and that nobody wants violence to occur—they’re just afraid to address the structural and institutional reasons why it happens.
“We’re doing mainly intervention work, not prevention at this point,” says Smith. “A lot of the foundation of prevention work is really based in this anti-oppression lens or a feminist point of view where we’re really combatting sexism.” They say that sometimes people can feel attacked when exposed to new concepts.
They continue to say that Huntingdon House is consistently under-funded, and that they’re in a “survival state of mind” where there isn’t always much “room for exploration.” They are constantly trying to keep up their core services and maintain some stability.
Smith envisions Huntingdon of the future to be a place that is more open and welcoming to the diversity that they see already exists, and they support the non-discrimination ordinance as a way forward and towards that. They hope that Huntingdon can experience some economic growth soon, so that people can stop feeling the effects of poverty, particularly a difficult housing market. They say that for right now, Huntingdon is still struggling with some of the basics for its population, which keeps it from expanding into the new, interesting thing it could become if it can meet those fundamental needs.