The Rural Reconciliation Project

The Rural Reconciliation Project 

Students listening to professor in classroom
Loop River

McCook, Nebraska

Why Reconciliation?

In social and legal terms, a reconciliation is a process of repairing relationships after a period of deep community conflict. A reconciliation requires (1) telling the truth of what has really occurred, (2) accounting for the complex consequences of past and present choices, and (3) ultimately, rebuilding new and more respectful governance and community relations. The output of a successful reconciliation process is not just a friendly forgetting of past errors and omissions but is, instead, an atonement for past wrongs and a radical re-imagining of the new world we want to build together.

Globally, reconciliation is most often synonymous with the remedy-seeking that occurs after violent atrocity, racial or ethnic conflict, or even genocide. In many ways, the difficulties facing rural America—or, put another way, the current conflicts between rural and urban Americans—do not compare. And yet, the so-called rural/urban divide in America does seem to be growing. This divide, at least as it is popularly imagined, situates significant social, economic, political, and racial differences along geographic lines. On both sides of this fissure, the narratives that drive these differences take on a kind of universalized sense of gospel. There is not enough space for nuance and complexity, and in many contexts, we have lost touch with the over-arching reasons for this state of affairs and, most importantly, any real vision of the desired path forward.  

This Rural Reconciliation Project is both radical and disruptive. Rather than simply sanctifying or evangelizing either side of this geographic equation, this Project is about boldly creating space for a more truthful, and critical, assessment of what has transpired and is transpiring in rural America. By starting with a focus on truth-telling and creating an accurate accounting, we can begin to understand the real complexity at play and, ultimately, find new ways forward. If we are clear about what we want and why, we can begin to imagine how to get there.

What do we even mean by rural? Why do we care about these rural places? What mistakes have been made and by whom—rural communities, urban communities, and at what scales? What is owed and how do we make that calculation? And what can the future be? 

Jessica Shoemaker

Jessica ShoemakerProfessor of Law


Professor Shoemaker has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her work on adaptive change in pluralistic land-tenure systems, as well as property law’s power to shape the contours of human communities and natural environments. Her work focuses specifically on issues of racial justice and agricultural sustainability in the American countryside and on systems of Indigenous land tenure and land governance in the United States and Canada. She is a Founding Fellow of the Rural Futures Institute, a Fellow and former Governor of the Center for Great Plains Studies, and the current Program Chair for the Association of Law, Property, and Society. Professor Shoemaker grew up on a chore farm in Iowa and comes from generations of Wisconsin farmers who grew everything from strawberries to ginseng. Prior to becoming a legal scholar, Professor Shoemaker worked as an agricultural writer, a VISTA volunteer, a rural community outreach worker, and a public-interest attorney for diverse, smallholder farmers. 

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Anthony Schutz

Anthony SchutzAssociate Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty


The product of a farm family in Elwood, Nebraska, Professor Schutz's research interests include the often intertwined subjects of agricultural law, environmental and natural resources law, and state and local government, all of which have significant impacts on rural landscapes and populations. Professor Schutz has served as the chair of the AALS Section on Agricultural Law, is active in the American Agricultural Law Association and the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, and is a frequent lecturer on agricultural and water law issues regionally and nationally. He is often involved in Nebraska policymaking at the state and local levels.  He serves as a director of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and he directs the Rural Law Opportunities Program at the College of Law.

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