FARGO, N.D. - National FFA President Luke O'Leary visited North Dakota for this week's the state FFA convention, and he addressed concerns raised by a former FFA member's blog post that accused the organization of not being inclusive enough.
The blog post by former FFA member Brandon Roiger was entitled, "Why FFA is not actually for everybody" and said the organization remains geared toward white men and hasn't done enough to make people of different genders, races, sexual orientations, sizes and more feel comfortable.
In an interview with Agweek TV, O'Leary said he appreciates Roiger's concerns and agrees the organization, like any other, has room to grow and learn. However, he said that despite the organization's imperfections, it still strives to make room for any student.
"We still believe strongly that FFA can be for everyone and that our doors are open to everyone," he said. "I do believe that we have the right intentions and that we're doing our best to include everybody of all backgrounds, of all race, gender, sexual orientation. Whoever someone is, wherever they come from, they can find a home in FFA."
The North Dakota FFA Convention was held this week in Fargo at North Dakota State University. The convention includes contests, educational opportunities, the selection of a new state officers team, awards and more. O'Leary put on student workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was his first visit to North Dakota, and he said he found the students welcoming.
That, he said, is not unusual. O'Leary, who's from California, visited many classrooms during his time as the national president. O'Leary said he has been in a school in Nashville labeled the most diverse school in the country. In one classroom, students spoke five different languages. But he said he still was able to communicate and show what FFA can offer to students with widely varying backgrounds.
O'Leary said the National FFA Organization also has addressed some dress code concerns. Several years ago, the organization voted to allow women to choose to wear pants or skirts rather than just skirts as part of the dress code. While some states or chapters may have different traditions, O'Leary said the female members of the national officer team tend to wear pants more than skirts.
He said the organization constantly addresses concerns and tries to find ways to improve, whether by looking for ways to increase membership or resources.
O'Leary says his organization remains committed to producing the "next generation of leaders to change the world," even as the economics of the ag industry remain difficult. Students are trying to think of solutions to problems in agriculture even while they're in the classroom, he said.
"It's exciting to see that despite the current conditions of our industry that students are being those leaders of the future," O'Leary said.