Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education

Academic Discipline

Higher Education Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Lorrie Butler

Second Advisor

Dr. Carla Sparks


Policies recognizing gender-neutrality and non-binary identities are needed in youth development programs to create a truly inclusive program and a sense of belonging for all youth. This study explored if and how written statewide policies regarding gender- neutrality can most effectively serve members, agents, and volunteers of the 4-H Youth Development Program in the state under study. The context of this study was the 4-H program in one state (agents and administrators as participants) and 4-H programs around the United States (administrators as participants).Preliminary qualitative and quantitative data from my research study indicated that agents in the state under study recognized an immediate need for written policies regarding gender neutrality, but the administrators did not. Agents working with youth expressed concerns about professional development, guidance, and written guidelines, but administrators had not produced any over several years. Administrators indicated that they were handling issues as they came up and had made the program inclusive. The lack of members identifying or known as transgender, non-binary, or gender-questioning contradicted the administrators’ statements of a welcome and inclusive environment. A notable disconnect existed between what county agents indicated was needed and wanted, and what administrators stated should be provided. Based on data and analysis, I recommended a statewide written policy was necessary to create a truly inclusive, equal opportunity 4-H Youth Development Program in the state under study.


To every young person out there struggling to fit in and find where they belong, do not be ashamed of what you feel and be honest with yourself in life. If at first you are not accepted, move on! Honesty and authenticity are essential words to embrace. Do not compromise your truth for others. Everyone belongs here and should never have to hide to feel safe. Hold your head high and see the world from your vantage point because that is the most important one for you.