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Faculty member receives grant from Arts and Humanities Council for ‘Leper of Pickens’ bullying documentary

Dr. Peggy Harman of the Marshall University College of Health Professions has been awarded a $1,500 grant from the West Virginia Arts and Humanities Council to film a documentary on “The Leper of Pickens,” which will focus on how a man’s life was forever changed due to discrimination and bullying.

“The Leper of Pickens” was a man from Syria who came to the United States around 1901 looking for a better life, according to Harman. After gaining employment, Harman said he developed sores on his face that became so severe that he was forced to quit his job and was forced from the town in which he was working.

“He traveled from town to town trying to gain employment, but was forced to leave because of his affliction. Naturally, he had very little money and thus, he could not afford medical care,” Harman said. “Eventually he ended up in West Virginia and was diagnosed with leprosy. The remainder of his life was horrific. The documentary will chronicle his life and death and highlight the effects prejudice and bullying have on the individual and society.”

Harman, an assistant professor in the college’s Department of Social Work, said the purpose of social work is to assist in the well-being of society. If the profession of social work had been as advanced as it now, “The Leper” could have been assisted and possibly could have lived a healthy and prosperous life, according to Harman.

“Immigrants often face discrimination and bullying for ‘being different’ and the addition of having a medical affliction, especially one that is disfiguring and that people perceive as communicable or ‘catching,’ is especially devastating,” Harman said. “Recent studies indicate that bullying and discrimination have devastating effects not only on the victim and their families, but have an overall impact on the quality of life on all members of the community. This type of violence is significantly associated with increased costs of health and social services. Studies also suggest that bullying and discrimination are highly associated with devaluation of property and lower productivity.”

The documentary will be entered into several West Virginia film festivals in 2016. Harman said she is eager to reveal the name of “The Leper” in the project so that audiences will evolve from viewing him as an object and begin to see him as a deserving human being.  Harman said she would also develop a curriculum focused on bullying and discrimination for a workshop to be presented to sixth graders in Cabell County.

To learn more about Harman’s work with this project, contact her at 304-696-3146 or e-mail For more information about the Department of Social Work, visit online.