Agriculture is Diversity

Andy+Rivas+stares+at+the+camera.

Marcus Rogers

Andy Rivas stares at the camera.

Throughout the 21st century, American society has progressed leaps and bounds more inclusively and diversely when compared to the past 100 years. The agriculture industry, a rural profession, is a path of the individual, showcasing the excellence of hard work through tangible results.

With more than 90% of agriculture teachers being white and non-Hispanic, per Jason Bullock in the third edition of the 2021 Journal of Agricultural Education, the future of agriculture is having to work to diversify the industry as a whole to appeal to a whole new generation.

In 2016, West Texas A&M University qualified for designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution. This recognition means that 25 percent of the overall undergraduate population is Hispanic. WT’s location in the Texas Panhandle, which has been increasingly more Hispanic every year, means that the University should be an HSI.

“You have all types of ethnicities, all types of cultures and that is what makes agriculture a culture,” said Alondra Meixueiro, an alumna from WT and a previous president of WT Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT). “It’s all about transparency one, and then two, that no matter where you are in the ag world, you are working to provide for a world for your consumers.”

Agriculture, from the bottom up, is incredibly diverse. Agriculture exists in every state in the U.S. in incredibly diverse forms. The growth of numerous crops, the raising of different species of livestock, and systems of the food and fiber products help run this country. Multiple avenues of knowledge converge in the agriculture industry and diversity helps accomplish the goal of keeping the world turning.

“People always say we don’t see color, that is not the point,” Meixueiro said. “However, that doesn’t mean that a conversation should be closed. You have to talk through it [transparently].”

Multiple minority groups have unfortunately been disenfranchised from multiple sectors of the economy in the past and the changes over the past 40-plus years have been working to include more people from historically oppressed groups.

“To be yourself is truly a revolutionary act, and I think more and more people should try it, because it is gotten me a pretty cool life” ”

— Lena Waithe

Being transparent about the current situation within agriculture with the lack of representation at the higher levels of the industry and other places of power shows that there needs to be more work done to include the most underrepresented groups of society.

It should be incorporated into this article that when trying to advance the interests of minorities, there needs to be a conscious effort to not tokenize people of color or other minorities by the systems of power.

“It’s about being able to embrace that [conversation] and know that it’s not a competition in the sense of who is more diverse than who,” Meixuerio said, “It’s about being able to form a partnership or friendship, whatever you want to insert in that blank, point out the obvious and be able to embrace it.”

One specific group of minorities that has seen an explosive growth of inclusive language and acceptance is the LGBTQ2+ community.

Recent studies show that Generation Z, which is classified as being born between 1997 – 2012, is the gayest generation to exist, using the modern terminology. This generation is the future of agriculture. The agriculture industry, along with every other industry, needs to be familiar with the terminology regarding sexuality and gender identities.

Dr. Kristina Drumheller, the advisor for the campus-wide Buff Allies, categorizes the term queer as an “umbrella term, that can mean anybody that identifies sexually or gender expression or gender identity in ways that are not heterosexual or cisgender.” This working definition has progressed in many ways, much like agriculture.

Andy Rivas admires his Schlumbergera gaertneri while preparing to answer questions about his time at WT. (Marcus Rogers)

Changing the terminology gives substance to the meaning behind the words. The language behind a conversation helps provide substance rather than inflammatory rhetoric.

Queerness, or being a part of the LGBTQ2+ community, is a large community that exists in every corner of the world, known or unknown. Agriculture, being in more rural communities, has taken longer to adopt a conversation around being inclusive. There are more openly queer people within agriculture since the inception of modern agriculture, but there is still more work to be done.

During the 21st century, America has seen the progression from “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” to the legalization of gay marriage nationwide. A potential innovation gap has come at a hard point because society’s rapid jump in acceptance has made people who have never had an experience with an openly queer person potently hesitant to adopt the new language.

“I’m not wanting to go out and say, ‘Oh my gosh I’m gay or I’m bisexual’, I just don’t think it is a very big deal,” said Andy Rivas, a senior Plant, Soil and Environmental Science major, said in an honest conversation about what it means to be apart of multiple minority groups in the agriculture industry. “To me, it meant a lot.” Rivas is a transfer student from Frank-Phillips College in Borger, Texas, encompassed by agriculture.

Rivas gives his Easter cactus some vitamin D. (Marcus Rogers)

When talking to Rivas about why he chose to come to WT, he mentioned that he is a non-traditional agriculture student and fell in love with WTAMU Agriculture.

“I’ve given so many [homegrown plants] to people here in the department and we’ve swapped plants and I’ve just grown so many things like I have orchids, I have succulents, I have cacti, I have spider plants,” Rivas said while giddily listing the plants that he possesses.

Rivas was late to the meeting we had scheduled because the Soil Judging Team he is a part of had their practice run later than planned, as it goes when you care about what you do. A connection of the student to a passion helps with making sure students stay plugged into the department. Students that are invested and included help the campus as a whole and make WTAMU Agriculture a better place for everyone.

This progress made in the inclusiveness of all people in the department has been the work of several people in the agriculture department and campus-wide. Buff Allies is a group on campus that helps to make sure students are integrating into campus life.

Drumheller is perhaps one of the most influential people to help improve the campus life at WT. In 2012, with help from the previous president of WT, Dr. Eddie Henderson, the program of Buff Allies was brought into the 21st century.

“This campus should be a space where students feel like the education they can receive at WT is something they want and they’re going to feel safe coming to get it here at this campus,” said Drumheller in a serious manner.

Students in an environment like the Texas Panhandle, have to search for an environment that is openly supportive of queer people. Fortunately, the work that needs to happen to make the community more inclusive has been sprouting, despite the occasional pushback. Diversity is a process and the soil at WT has been fertile. The university as a whole boasts 111 people a part of Buff Allies, with three staff in the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

One reason historically underrepresented groups stay in the field of STEM is because it is their passion, no one is going to let someone else ruin the love they have for this field.

“You love doing this on your own time, you love plants,” said Rivas in an honest manner about why he chose horticulture. “All of the farming aspects of it and how it could honestly improve your ecosystems, biodiversity and protect the environment.”

An aspect of being queer is to be yourself in an authentic manner that only you know. Being queer doesn’t always ft into society’s vision, and that is okay. Nature finds a way. Just like plants, growth is an important part of the journey of life.

Stickers are placed visibly in doorways on Buff Allies offices.

“I like to just grow them from scratch and one of the things that I’m personally proud of is that I grew dragon-fruit from the tiny seed,” Rivas said with a smile. “I just love fruiting plants and being able to genetically modify them and stuff like that. I grew [a dragon-fruit] from seed and now it is in like this huge heavy pot.”

Rivas’ love for agriculture came from his middle school biology class, but he did not know he wanted to have this life till the connections he made at WT. Before becoming a Plant, Soil and Environmental Science major, Rivas jumped from biology to nursing and never felt quite comfortable. WT’s dedication to the natural world and the cultivation of production agriculture
helped bring Rivas to this side of campus. “You either accept me for who I am, or you don’t, and either way, it is not going to matter to me, because the most important thing is what I want to do and what it is that is important in my life,” Rivas said.

A few of Rivas plants crowd a shelf in his room that has access to sunlight. (Marcus Rogers)

Being a minority doesn’t mean that you will be in a place that is always accepting, but other people don’t control you. The only opinion that truly matters is yours. Being queer isn’t easy, but it’s also not hard. Choosing to be authentic, no matter the field of study or what career choice is selected can be difficult and takes time. Like in agriculture, blood, sweat and tears are a foundation for a successful life.

“In terms of the future, I just really hope we see it as a place where everybody feels like they have a place,” Dr. Drumheller said optimistically. “No matter their background, their views or their identification, you feel safe at WT just being who you are.”

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