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Alumni Spotlight: Kailey Kornhauser

Kailey stands holding a gravel bike with a water and city scape behind her.

Kailey Kornhauser has taken on many roles since graduating from the Environmental Humanities Program in 2017: facilitator, policy analyst, planning commissioner, PhD student, and advocate for body size inclusion in the cycling world. She is currently a PhD candidate in Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. She is interested in collaborative forest governance and public engagement on National Forest Lands in Oregon. She began studying forest collaboratives during her time in the Environmental Humanities Program in partnership with the Wallace Stegner Center’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Program at the University of Utah. Prior to that, Kailey studied environmental history at Westminster College.

While working to complete her doctoral research, Kailey has worked with the Oregon State Legislature, Corvallis Planning Commission, and the Siuslaw Forest-Wide Collaborative. She is also an advocate for body size inclusivity in cycling and her story was covered in the recent film All Bodies on Bikes. You can learn more about Kailey on her website.

In October 2021, I had the pleasure of conversing with Kailey (a dear friend) about her research, professional experiences, bike advocacy, and EH experience. 

Brooke: Since graduating from the Environmental Humanities Program, you've been pursuing a PhD at Oregon State. What is the focus of your research?

Kailey: I'm in the Forest, Ecosystems, and Society PhD program in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. I study forest collaboration, which is a form of public engagement with the national forests and members of the public who meet in groups to basically create recommendations for the Forest Service. The groups usually involve private timber industry, environmental groups, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, local and state government, anyone who might have an interest in how national forests are managed. All participants self-select to be there. It's all voluntary. The Forest Service does tend to listen to these groups a lot of the time. The focus of my research is on the outcomes that the groups produce. What do these collaborative groups recommend to the Forest Service? I'm also asking, what are the power dynamics within the groups themselves that are influencing those suggestions? What are the power dynamics outside of the groups that are influencing the group?

Brooke: You have had various opportunities to put your research into practice. You've served on the City of Corvallis Planning Commission, worked with the Oregon State Legislature, and are currently facilitating the Oregon Central Coast Forest Collaborative. What have these roles entailed? What have you learned from these experiences?

Kailey: In 2019, I worked for the State of Oregon in the Legislative Policy and Research office as a policy analyst for the House Natural Resource Committee of the Oregon State Legislature. Part of that role was providing nonpartisan policy analysis of every policy that came through the Natural Resource Committee that legislative session. The other part was helping to facilitate and run the House Natural Resource Committee, so figuring out what their agendas were going to be, inviting the right people to be there, and being a neutral person as a resource during meetings and on the House floor when policies were being discussed. House committees and Senate committees aren't really like collaboratives necessarily, but they follow similar processes. My role there was nonpartisan, my role as a facilitator is neutral. They're not the same job, but they're similar. I also joined the City of Corvallis Planning Commission in 2019 after I finished up at the State because I wanted to stay involved in policy somehow. My second year on the commission, I became the commission chair. So, then I again became a neutral facilitator of that group. We were hearing different land use cases, making decisions about whether we were going to allow certain types of development, how we were going to change city policy to allow for different types of development. I did that for two years. Now, for the past year, I've been forming and then coordinating and facilitating a forest collaborative on the Siuslaw National Forest, which is in Oregon right next to Corvallis where I live. We're just getting going, but the aim there is the same as the other forest collaboratives that I study: it is a process for multiple different stakeholders to talk about what they want to see on that national forest. I don't research the collaborative I run, for obvious reasons, but it's very similar to the groups that I research.

Brooke: How has the work you've done in the government and community complemented your research and your experience in your PhD program? Why did you pursue these opportunities outside of academia?

Kailey: I really did not want to do a PhD where I just extracted data out of the community and then produced some type of social science. I feel like the people who are in the community know the community better than any researcher could ever know. So, I really wanted to be in the communities I studied. That's why I went to Oregon to study forest collaboration, because there is the greatest number of forest collaboratives in that state. But it's a tribute to how long a PhD program is that I was able to actually become a part of the community. Research is time consuming, so then becoming part of a community as part of your research, a lot of people think that isn't realistic. But I would critique that mentality. Because I was living there and I was working for the state legislature, I met people at the state level, and they all knew who I was outside of my research. By being on the planning commission, I started meeting people who lived in the forest area. Now of course, I am a facilitator of a forest collaborative. So, I research forest collaboration, I work on a forest collaborative, I worked on forest policy in the state, worked on city planning. People in that realm of work now know who I am, and that was what I wanted. Usually when I go to do an interview with someone for my research, I know them already. There are very few people that I'm meeting for the first time when I do an interview. That's what I was really hoping for, not because there's necessarily something wrong with meeting someone through an interview, I just wanted to become intimately familiar with forest collaboration because I felt like the people who knew it the best were the ones who were actually doing it. My research tells me certain things. I'm analyzing forest collaboration in a way that if you were just practicing forest collaboration, you wouldn't be as critically analyzing what you're doing. But a lot of what I know and what goes into my research is from working in the community. I got fortunate, I was intentional, but it also worked out really well that my goals for my time in my PhD all came together because now I don't feel like I'm just pulling data from people.

Brooke: How did your research and experience in EH inform the work and research you're currently doing?

Kailey: I had no idea about forest collaboration until EH. When I came to EH, I wanted to be an environmental historian. That's what I started out doing, and then I went to a talk by Dr. Danya Rumore, who works in the Environmental Dispute Resolution center at the University of Utah, on collaborative governance. I started working with her, and I met people from the forest service through working with her. It was all kind of serendipitous because the Forest Service inspired my master's thesis research questions. In Utah, there's Forest Service land, and there's certainly a lot of forest activity, but I wasn't familiar with it. The public land I was on was mostly BLM land. Even though my research in EH was more theoretical, it was applied in that the Forest Service was helping me drive the questions. So obviously that very much shaped what I ended up doing, because now I continue to study forest collaboration, which I discovered during EH.

I think EH also gave me that value of being grounded in the place that you study. My program now, it's a social science program, we train people to be social scientists. That's great, it's a useful skill set, but without my background in the humanities, I think my research would be much less deep. I would only be doing the analysis part. I don't think I would have prioritized becoming part of the community. I would have just been like, 'I'm a scientist!' And I don't really like being a scientist.

Brooke: In recent years, you've also become an advocate for body size inclusivity in the cycling world. How did that evolve? What does that work look like?

Kailey: I started riding bikes when I lived in Utah because I didn't have a car and I needed to go places, including up a really big hill to EH. While in EH, I wrote about being a fat person on a bike for the first time. I had never called myself fat, especially in writing—that felt very permanent. In Steve Trimble's creative writing class, I wrote and shared a piece of writing about being a fat cyclist. That was the first time I'd written something like that, read it out loud, and then heard people respond. I assumed people would be like, 'You're not fat!' You know, the things that people think are compliments but are not acknowledging someone's actual experience. But that isn't what happened. I felt like everyone liked it more than anything else I had written before.

A year later, you and I rode across Alaska, and on that trip, I was thinking even more about being a fat cyclist. I had gone through some challenging times with food and body image right before that trip and I was in the recovery stage. So, I was thinking a lot about it. Then I just got lucky because I think I had written one or two small Instagram posts about it at that point, and this editor from Bicycling Magazine saw my post and asked me to recommend plus size clothes for cyclists for the magazine. I was like, 'Oh, yeah, here's what I wear. But that's not really the big issue. There's all these other huge issues with body size in sport.' That turned into this article, which turned into a magazine cover, and then I got to have the opportunity to do this body size inclusion work in cycling that I'm still doing.

It’s hard to believe because it's an opportunity that I feel like I got very lucky to have. I knew early on that people were responding when I was writing and talking about being a fat cyclist, but I'm not the only one talking about or experiencing this. So, it feels weird to now have a big platform for sharing this message. I'm continuing to do that by holding workshops and group rides for people. I coordinate an online community called All Bodies on Bikes with another fat cyclist. We made a film. There's all this great stuff, but I'm also aware that it's time and maybe past time for the spotlight to move to other people. I'm pretty damn confident I don't want to be a full time Instagram influencer.

Brooke: Do you have any advice for current Environmental Humanities students?

Kailey: Okay, number one, enjoy the heck out of those two years because, for me, EH was how I became a fully formed human. I'm still working on that, but EH is at least where I realized all of the facets of what it took to be a fully formed human. It's just such a wonderful time. It's a really special time. It's a really special program. I know that now, I think I knew it kind of then, but hindsight is 2020. So just enjoy the time. I think the skills that people are gaining in EH are incredibly valuable skills. I spent a lot of time during the program worrying, what am I going to do next? What is this setting me up to do? Now, I don't think you need to worry about that. The world desperately needs more people who have done the EH program. So, I think my advice would be worry less, chill more, have a good time. [insert loud laughter]

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Last Updated: 12/12/23