The Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences has launched the fifth chapter in the nation, and the first west of the Mississippi River, of a club for agriculture community members identifying as LGTBQ+ and their allies.
“This club is an opportunity to acknowledge students who have always been a part of agriculture but perhaps never felt like they had a place that truly accepted them,” said Christina Walsh, one of the faculty advisors for the club and the student engagement coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences. “It’s exciting to witness the enthusiasm of students who feel like they finally have a home.”
The club, Cultivating Change, is part of the Cultivating Change Foundation, which was founded in 2015 with the aim of starting a conversation that acknowledges and values the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the agricultural industry. Four other universities – Penn State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Ohio State – currently have chapters.
Oregon State’s chapter is part of a growing group of LGBTQ+ clubs and networks at the university, which is also home to the Pride Center, which provides programs and support services for LGBTQ+ members of the Oregon State community and their allies.
Robin Frojen, OSU’s dairy plant manager and faculty co-sponsor of the Cultivating Change chapter is excited about the potential for more people identifying in the LGBTQ+ community to gain visibility and acceptance as they chart careers in agricultural sciences.
“One of the many significant benefits of the formation of this group is going to be the ability to network as an LGBTQ+ ag group with industry,” Frojen said. “We believe this club has the ability to open a lot of doors that students may have felt were closed in the past.”
Abi Bickford and Ryan Auld, who are among the students who helped form the club, shared similar sentiments.
“Growing up in suburban Seattle, I wasn’t even considering agriculture when I first came to OSU and was undeclared for my first two years,” said Bickford, who is a queer, multiracial woman and now a fourth-year agricultural sciences major. “The biggest impact I see for this club is its ability to increase visibility of the queer community in agriculture. That visibility can help form a strong community of support that I didn’t find when I first arrived here.”
Auld is a bioresource research major who is a first-year student who is a bisexual, transgender man.
“A lot of people have this idea that all of ag is straight cis white men but that’s just not the case,” Auld said. “Because there’s no one really representing anyone else, we don’t see the real diversity that exists in the agricultural community.”
Kirk Maag, president of the board of directors of the Cultivating Change Foundation, and a partner with Stoel Rives LLP in Portland, is a graduate of Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“I am particularly proud to see such enthusiasm for this important work at OSU,” Maag said. “It takes leadership from the top and vocal allies that students even feel comfortable to present an idea like this. My hope is that other land grant agricultural colleges will take note of how their leadership can lean into their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion to help more chapters emerge across the country.”