Meet Jaclyn Wypler, Sociology Ph.D. candidate
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Jaclyn strives towards improving the agricultural sector through creating inclusive and safe places for queer farmers.
Jaclyn Wypler is a current Ph.D. candidate in the Department Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Jaclyn pronouns are she/they. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she studies queer and transgender sustainable farmers in conservative rural communities in the Midwest. Her work focuses on how women and non-binary people use their connection to the land to make social and economic bonds in seemingly hostile places. During her Ph.D. program, they had the opportunity to work as a research assistant with Dr. Monica White investigating the historical and contemporary black farming cooperatives in the south and the contemporary cooperatives in Detroit, Michigan, which is now a book called Freedom Farmers. As part of her research assistantship, they also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor looking at food access in Michigan. Besides helping amazing female professors with their research, Jaclyn was also a teaching assistant and lecturer. In her Sociology of Gender course, she had 100 students! “The students are being really great and engaged and asking questions and so far and I’m loving teaching”.
Explore courses outside your major!
Jaclyn did her undergrad research in sociology at Dartmouth College. It wasn't until she took a Geography course called Food and Power that she discovered her passion for agriculture and fell in love with the college’s organic farm. “We visited my college's organic farm and I was really attracted and enticed by it. It is on the Connecticut River which is the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. It was extremely picturesque, and the fields were gorgeous.” During her undergrad, Jaclyn was also a college track athlete (javelin thrower!), however, from being in a very competitive environment she developed an eating disorder. At the same time, she started volunteering at her college’s organic farm. “Planting food for myself, growing it, cooking it, and eating it, helped a lot of my ticks around eating go away”.
Moments that spark passion
One of the big moments of Jaclyn’s academic career, was when she attended for the first time the Women in Sustainable Agriculture national conference. At the conference, she got to experience recognition for the queer community where she felt acknowledge and included.
“We have been a part of this community and there is a rich history of the lesbian land movement all over the world. It was a really great rally call for the importance of centering lesbian and queer women in agriculture and that was at the very beginning of my journey.”
Another memorable moment in Jaclyn’s journey was when she helped a farmer organize a Queer Farmer Convergence on that farmer’s property. “To be standing in that circle with 60 farmers from across the country who have traveled to the middle of corn country, Iowa, to hang out with queer farmers, was a really amazing moment. You don't think about this happening in Iowa so to see the middle of the sheep field was really validating and life-giving to me.”
Working towards a brighter future
Jaclyn is currently applying for postdocs and assistant professor positions. She expresses that they want to stay in academia for now because there is a fair amount of my research that did not make it into her dissertation. Jaclyn also took 6 months to interview LGBT farmers in Australia. Through that research, she became very aware of the issues of mental health that queer farmers are facing not only as farmers who are increasingly dealing with the challenges of climate change but also as queer people who are dealing with societal stigma. However, she also told us that in the long term she’d be open to having a center that is dedicated to queer farmers or to start a non-profit that is based around farm education. “My dream is to have a summer farm camp for queer kids with an educational component.”
Grad school it's kind of a roller coaster
In the course of Jaclyn’s Ph.D. program, she faced one of the biggest challenges in her academic career. “Two years ago, in our department, there was a fair amount of students and people coming forward about sexual harassment that they had experienced in the department coming from professors and other graduate students. Just navigating that was a really important shift for our department.” Jaclyn expressed that having to juggle teaching and research while being involved in climate committees and the intricacies of bureaucracy was an extremely draining experience. She said that finding those people who can be your support and knowing where your responsibilities start, and end was essential to dealing head-on with the problem and maintaining good mental health.
Unexpected benefits of pursuing a passion outside of work
Jaclyn, a.k.a., Brokeback Jac played roller derby most of her time in grad school. She says it was a fun and fantastic outlet where she got to meet amazing people who became supporters of her research. “Roller derby has fed and contributed to research in many ways. The connection that I've made through this, helped bolster my research. It doesn't have to be seen as taking away from it. Yes, it's extracurricular but it all feeds into the work”. On one occasion Jaclyn was screening a documentary about queer farmers, Out Here, and most of the people that showed up were friends from the roller derby community that wanted to learn about a different corner of the queer community. Unfortunately, Jaclyn got too many concussions from roller derby and she is currently practicing a fair amount a yoga.
Jaclyn has also been part of the Rural Dyke Association for about 5 years. The Rural Dyke Association is a southern Wisconsin based group who help each other with projects and activities and share resources, knowledge, and food. “I'm the youngest by 3-4 decades and I adore them. I think intergenerational connections, particularly because of their age, they show up in ways that most of us don't do.”
We need sociologists to contribute to the agricultural sector
Jaclyn expresses that sociologists study people, society, and culture and even how tractor advertisements might communicate who is and who isn't a farmer. We need this human element to create an inclusive and resilient environment for everyone.
“When we think of family farms, that family farm is generally a white heterosexual family that is part of a colonial legacy, so all the ways in how we think of farms start by including or excluding people based upon their identities. That may be excluding queer people, people who have immigrated from other countries, people who are refugees, or who don’t have access to their land because it has been stolen. If we are thinking about building a resilient agriculture system we actually need all those people.”
There this thing called patriarchy…
We asked Jaclyn why is it important to include women and non-binary people in agricultural sciences and she said:
“If you want to have diverse resilient science, if you want to have sciences that are thinking critically, you need to have these (women and non-binary people) perspectives and whitewashing and male washing is NOT going to get you there.”
Role models inspire and motivate us
Jaclyn mentioned that her ultimate female inspiration in academia is Dr. Monica White. Dr. Monica does amazing ethnographic interviews and historical work with black farmers. Jaclyn expresses that she is a person who is personally invested in these people and does not compromise her values and the critical work that those black farmers are doing to appease the education system that is largely run by people of power and white people. “Upholding the people that you are writing about and not compromising them because of the power that might determine your academic trajectory. Stay true to you and stay true to your participants”.
In the farming community, one of Jaclyn's biggest role models is Nett Hart. She is a farmer in Minnesota that has been farming for 35 years on 80 acres. Nett has been a critical part of the lesbian community in many realms. She has published lesbian almanacs, co-founded the non-profit Lesbian Natural Resources, hosted lesbians as they came through, and has done much more for the queer community.
Jaclyn wants you to check out these great resources!
Queer Farmer Convergence – “The Queer Farmer Convergence was conceived as a gathering to build community among queer farmers and to reflect on and interrupt racist, capitalist, and heteropatriarchal legacies in U.S. agriculture. It also works to build community among queer farmers as an antidote to the isolation that many of us experience in our daily lives.”
Queer Farmer Network listserv
Northeast Queer Farmer Alliance- contact Ike Leslie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Country Queers- “a multimedia oral history project documenting the diverse experiences of rural and small-town LGBTQIA folks in the USA.”
Equality USDA - “The employee resource group for USDA's LGBT+ employees and retirees.”
Check out her website for more resources and great recommendations of books, documentaries and much more!
Thank you, Jaclyn, for sharing your story with us!
- The Women in Agricultural Sciences (WAGS) Team
You can find Jaclyn Wypler at:
This interview was developed, transcribed and edited by WAGS co-founder Marlia Bosques Martínez.