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WVU researcher finds sexism ‘pervasive in agriculture faculty’

Smiling woman in red shirt.

Haley Rosson, assistant professor of agriculture in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and Extension education

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A West Virginia University researcher has found that sexism is still pervasive among agriculture faculty in spite of gains made in the last 15 years. Haley Rosson, assistant professor of agriculture in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and Extension education, said behaviors include toxic work environments, unhealthy competition, inappropriate interactions and policy violations.

Rosson was part of a team that won an award for its paper “Women Faculty in Postsecondary Agricultural and Extension Education: A Fifteen Year Update.” The team was recognized for their outstanding paper/presentation at the Southern Region American Association of Agricultural Education Conference held in Birmingham, Alabama.

The paper provided an update to a study conducted in 2003 and was the result of a nationwide survey sent to female faculty at land grant institutions and universities with an agricultural education or extension program. The survey included five questions that helped researchers gain perspective into the population’s educational and professional background, current and professional status, mentoring, professional treatment and demographics.

Focusing on the positive portion of study results, women reported having excellent mentoring opportunities regardless of the mentor’s gender. The collaborative environment was mentioned as being a positive experience for the respondents as well as enjoying a culture of women building other women up and working together in the agriculture industry.

“Unfortunately, there were also really nasty, kind of shocking comments that we really hoped we weren’t going to see,” Rosson said. “One faculty member said she’d been called beautiful more times than she had been called smart.” 

Personal experience with sexism is one of the many facets that lead Rosson to research female faculty in agriculture. Having worked as a county extension agent in Oklahoma, Rosson would often field telephone calls from people looking for the “ag guy.” 

“Although I was the person they were looking for, callers would repeatedly request to speak with a man,” she said. “That was the first time that I directly dealt with that. Being in those kind of gender specific roles, I was continually trying to shatter those stereotypes and thinking yes, a woman can be in an ag position and know just as much as her male counterparts.”

Rosson said it’s important to create a culture of inclusivity, collaboration and positivity for agriculture faculty members regardless of gender. 

“If we are just willing to have those conversations and be on the same playing field, I really think that is what we can achieve,” she said.



CONTACT: Lindsay Willey
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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