A trip to a national student agriculture conference a year ago included two important moments that eventually led to the foundation of a new student group on Washington State University’s Pullman campus.
Students for Cultivating Change (SCC) started at WSU in January as a club that strives to create a welcoming community for LGBTQ+ students interested in agriculture. The founders started the club a few months after they returned to campus.
“We were approached by a Louisiana State University student who queer-coded us,” said co-founder and club president Skyler Allison (she/they). “He told us about the national Cultivating Change Foundation and asked if we wanted to learn more about starting a student club at WSU.”
This happened shortly after negative experiences happened at the conference.
“We had a few instances of discrimination that we had to talk with our advisor about,” Allison said. “For the LSU student to mention an organization directly aimed at creating a place of acceptance was the best possible timing.”
Allison, a senior Organic and Sustainable Agriculture major, started the club with club vice president Rachel Yee (she/they), a sophomore majoring in Agricultural Biotechnology. They co-founded the club with Brock Abbott (he/him), Gabby Alvarez Garcia (she/her), and Sophie Lebard (she/her).
“At the conference, I felt a tension with the people around me,” Yee said. “When we were approached about SCC, it felt necessary to have a space where everyone can feel comfortable.”
WSU’s SCC was born soon after with three primary goals for this semester: recruiting more members, collaborating with other groups around campus, and creating a safe space for students to relax, have fun, and learn.
Their overall mission is to advocate for LGBTQ+ students within CAHNRS by creating visible, inclusive community spaces and providing professional devolvement opportunities.
“We want all students to feel welcomed and included, so I’m so happy to help mentor the group as they create a safe space for kindness and acceptance at WSU,” said Rae Olsson, program administrator in WSU’s Department of Entomology and co-faculty advisor for SCC. “I’m also excited about the workshops that can help after they earn their degrees.”
Along those lines, last spring SCC hosted a workshop on how to tell if a workplace is a safe place. This semester they’re planning events on topics such as creating a professional LinkedIn profile and writing effective diversity statements on job applications.
The first SCC was founded in 2016 at Penn State University. SCC chapters around the country are under the umbrella of the Cultivating Change Foundation, a national nonprofit whose mission is valuing and elevating LGBTQ+ agriculturists through advocacy, education, and community.
Regular WSU SCC meetings are held every other Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. and include introductions, discussions about life experiences, and often arts and crafts or study tips. They typically have activities like plant swaps as a nod to the group’s agriculture backdrop.
“It’s helpful for us talk about our experiences around campus,” Allison said. “We want everyone to join, you don’t have to be LGBTQ+ as long as you have an open mind and recognize that it’s a safe space.”
Students sharing their stories can have a knock-on impact as well, they said.
“Students don’t always feel comfortable reporting negative experiences, like if a professor objects to pronoun usage,” Allison said. “Sometimes it’s easy to feel ashamed for being different. If students share experiences with us, we can talk with other groups or leadership in the college, anonymously, and advocate for them.”
“We are all capable of being kind to each other and allowing someone else to live their life. Supporting kindness is always the right answer.”