Food access, sustainability and conservation have become mainstream conversations worldwide. And while these issues are broad, too often, representation within these discussions is not, according to the University of Kentucky (UK), a Sullivan Foundation partner school.
To address the problem, the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has launched the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Fund—the first of its kind in the Southeastern Conference. The fund was created with the intention of diversifying Kentucky agricultural and environmental industries.
The lack of diversity across agricultural and environmental leadership is compounding the immense challenges facing our planet. For rising leaders, this dilemma is all too real.
“As a minority in the state of Kentucky, I’ve experienced different encounters based upon my gender, race and sexuality,” said Iyahna Wilson, an agricultural education student at UK. “As an openly lesbian Black woman, I have participated in protests, held spaces for individuals like myself, and reflected on the experiences that I have encountered. At the University of Kentucky, as a minority it can be hard to express yourself if the spaces aren’t there for you.”
Understanding these student experiences, University of Kentucky staff and faculty are taking decisive steps in fostering more inclusive spaces and an equitable workforce.
“I hope the creation of this scholarship shows our students that everyone belongs here, and we are dedicated to their success,” said Mia Farrell, assistant dean and director for diversity in UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “While we know more can be done, this is a big step in the right direction.”
Thanks to a grant from JustFundKY, a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBTQ Kentuckians, a commemorative artwork has been commissioned to promote this new scholarship. The print, titled “Ag is for All: Diversity Feeds the World,” was created by queer Kentucky artist Wylie Caudill. Those interested in receiving the artwork may email their request to Seth Riker.
“While we know this scholarship will lessen financial burdens for our students, we also hope Wylie’s artwork will leave a lasting impression in the spaces it is posted,” said Carmen Agouridis, associate dean for instruction in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Tomorrow’s solutions will require unique passions and skills from all backgrounds. And everyone should be able to contribute as their authentic self.”
Students like Wilson agree. “Thankfully, I have a cohort that allows me to express myself without judgement,” said Wilson. “I believe that individuals who are underrepresented should be allowed to express, experience and engage comfortably at their university.”
Those wishing to support this newly created scholarship may donate via University of Kentucky’s Network for Good website.
This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Kentucky website.