Jace Riggin ’16: A Champion for Justice in His Home State Posted on May 21st, 2015 by

Jace Riggin '16

Jace Riggin ’16

While growing up in Devils Lake, North Dakota, Gustavus Adolphus College junior Jace Riggin ’16 says he was an “outsider” for many reasons. He was the blond haired and blue eyed Caucasian who grew up on an American Indian reservation. He was the stepson of a mixed race marriage between his Native American stepfather and white mother. He was the gay Christian who tried to make sense of two identities that many told him couldn’t exist together. Today, Riggin is using his life experiences and passion for justice to help others in his hometown who might consider themselves as “outsiders”.

“I still remember where I grew up,” Riggin said. “It is my family, my upbringing, and my intersections with being an outsider and trying to blend in that fuel my passion for LGBT advocacy, protection of Native children, and concern for those who have the least among us.”

Choosing Gustavus

Riggin looked at a large number of schools during his college search process and Gustavus was actually the last school he decided to visit. Once he stepped on campus he recognized that Gustavus was an institution with a strong community and collection of people that would accept him for who he was and foster the growth he needed to succeed in the future.

“Gustavus has been the absolute right choice for me. I have grown tremendously during my time on the hill,” Riggin said. “Gustavus has fostered in me an ability to understand others, think critically about complex issues, seek sustainable solutions to pressing matters, and understand what I am passionate about and would like to focus on after life on the hill.”

Academically, Riggin is a political science and communication studies double major. Outside the classroom, Riggin has immersed himself in a number of student organizations across campus during the past three years. He is a member of the Epsilon Pi Alpha fraternity, the College’s Judiciary Board, and the Choir of Christ Chapel. He is a Peer Assistant, on the Diversity Leadership Council, a Safe Zone Coordinator, and a member of Queers and Allies. He has been involved in the Gustavus Crossroads Program, the Diversity Ambassadors Program, and the Order of Omega.

“Jace is a leader, both on and off campus. Whatever the cause, when there is an event on our campus, Jace is inevitably at or near the center of leadership,” Professor of Communication Studies Phil Voight said. “On public policy issues as varied as gay marriage, electoral politics, free speech, anti-violence coordination, and race relations, Jace has been at the forefront in challenging his fellow students to become more involved, and in encouraging the campus to adopt change.”

“In my opinion, the true mark of a Gustavus education is the commitment to excellence that I have experienced in and out of the classroom,” Riggin said. “All students are encouraged to have insatiable minds to seek to build bridges. Not only have I found this to be true in the classroom, but also while singing in the choir, spending time with my fraternity brothers, and simply meeting one-on-one with a professor.”

LGBT Advocacy Work

 In the fall of 2013 while taking Public Discourse—a core class in the Communication Studies Department’s curriculum—Riggin asked the question, “what is it like for LGBT students at Devils Lake High School?” He surveyed 167 students at the school and discovered that less than one in five students reported that they would feel safe revealing their identity as LGBT at the school.

For the next seven months, Riggin engaged in research, spoke to school officials in an attempt to enact policy changes, and collaborated with officials at the University of North Dakota to develop policy and programming aimed at protecting LGBT identified students.

Riggin at the community forum he organized in his hometown of Devils Lake, ND.

Riggin at the community forum he organized in his hometown of Devils Lake, ND.

After running into some roadblocks from district administrators, Riggin took his advocacy to another level. In September of 2014 he organized a community forum titled, “What is Happening at DLHS: The Atmosphere for LGBT Students.” He invited the first openly gay North Dakota legislator, Joshua Boschee, to help moderate and present at the forum.

“When the event was over, 30 community members along with DLHS faculty, students, and administrators had engaged in a conversation that many wanted to avoid,” Riggin said. “I have never felt as fulfilled as I did while watching that conversation unfold and listening to personal stories of the community members present.”

Riggin says that while the school district has not yet implemented policies that would properly protect LGBT students, the district has agreed to allow staff to attend training sessions regarding LGBT identified students. He says that while it is far from ideal, it is a step in the right direction.

Riggin says that he plans to continue his advocacy for LGBT students in North Dakota and will continue to draw from the knowledge he has learned in several of his Gustavus classes including Public Discourse, Sex, Power, and Politics, and Campaign Political Communication. He plans to serve on a newly formed North Dakota Statewide LGBT Coalition as a regional representative. While he and his fellow advocates have steep hill to climb politically in North Dakota, Riggin hopes to one day see the state implement an anti-bullying and harassment policy on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within public schools.

“With continued work and focus, North Dakota and similar communities will become safer for LGBT identified individuals,” Riggin said. “That is why it is important for college level students to not only educate and advocate on their college campus, but also in communities outside of their campus grounds.”

Riggin’s work in the area of LGBT advocacy has not gone unnoticed. Along with being a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar Finalist, Riggin was the recipient of Gustavus’s 2015 Ovanlig Award, which is given annually to a junior or senior student who has demonstrated leadership in raising campus awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender rights and concerns.

A Bright Future

After graduating from Gustavus in 2016, Riggin says he plans to pursue a Master of Public Policy degree with a concentration in social policy or non-profit management.

“I believe that non-profit organizations are agents of change within society, and that sound public policy that is built from the ground up can be used as a tool that effectively solves systemic problems within communities,” Riggin said. “When people from the communities that policy effects contribute to and execute policy, that is when we succeed.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad



  1. Sally Deutsch says:

    You are so inspiring for all people of race, religion & age. Keep up the good work for what you believe

  2. Judy MacDonald says:

    You are truly an inspiration, keep up the good work.

  3. Kitty Overbo says:

    Jace has demonstrated enormous courage, sensitivity and powerful leadership in an area that ignites strong emotions on all sides of the GLTB issues. But It is better and more powerful to light one candle than to curse the darkness. I am proud to know Jace and I know he will continue to forge ahead and build greater sensitivity and understanding of our fellow human beings.

  4. Jorge Gonzalez says:

    What an amazing young man! His actions give me hope for humanity and a brighter future. Jace is an example of authentic leadership. Very inspiring!

  5. Mark Sallmen says:

    God bless you and your work and studies!!! I wish I had had your courage when I was on campus. You are a shining example to Gustavus and I am proud to be a fellow Gustie!

  6. Gay Carlson says:

    So proud of you, Jace. Courage to do what you’re doing is amazing.