Seven ways to foster a more inclusive LGBTQIA + learning environment
In this time of social unrest and physical disconnection, it is especially important to foster an inclusive classroom environment. It empowers all students to challenge prejudices and misconceptions, to think critically and respond sensitively and productively, to build supportive and mature interpersonal relationships, and to achieve academic success. . For students who identify as LGBTQIA +, we must remember that they face realities that are unique (as well as similar) to those of other students:
- Intolerance, hatred, and violence persist, and depression and suicide are still at disproportionately higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts.
- Living a lie every day while hiding your identity is stressful and exhausting. As DiPietro (2012) wrote, “…for locked up LGBT students… trying to hide their identity; monitor their speech in class; use gender neutral pronouns; avoid mentioning revealing names, places and websites; and otherwise censoring their speech and writing… diverts cognitive energy from the real purpose of the classroom – by deepening the content – and can result in unrealized learning potential.
- For those students who are considering coming out or who might want to select others, deciding who to tell means repeatedly facing the possibility of coming out. rejection, ostracism and potential violence. For students who have started living their truth after leaving home for college, in front of return home for online learning could mean going back to hiding who they are.
All of these realities can be exacerbated if a person’s LGBTQIA + identity intersects with an identity of another oppressed minority group (McConnell, Janulis, Phillips, Truong & Birkett, 2018.) They can also be exacerbated when a person has cross identity in a community / group that has historically marginalized LGBTQIA + people (Harris, 2009).
Here are seven ways to foster a more inclusive LGBTQIA + learning environment:
- Include an open question in a pre-semester survey, such as “What would you like me to know about your identity, background or needs? This gives students the opportunity to share anything they would like you to know about interacting with them in class and sends a message that you are sensitive to issues related to their identity.
- Familiarize yourself with current terminology. The language is constantly evolving and depends on the context. For example, weird has been used as an insult against LGBTQIA + people, but has more recently been echoed by some, but not all, in the LGBTQIA + community. Remember, it never hurts to ask a student first. If you use a word inappropriately, humbly correct yourself right away. Then help others to correct, if necessary, in a positive way.
- Evaluate the content of your course. Integrate the LGBTQIA + story (October is LGBT History Month), news and people who have contributed to your domain in course content and homework, if applicable. Seeing their identity reflected in the course content sends a powerful message that they belong to this class and subject / field of study.
- Assess your own classroom climate for indicators of implicit bias (i.e. micro-aggression – words and behaviors generally not meant to be offensive but which nonetheless marginalize others) and explicit bias (overt expressions of bias) about identity gender and sexual orientation. The well-meaning greeting, “Hello ladies and gentlemen,” is a micro-aggression because it excludes people who identify outside of the female / male gender binary. Explicit bias and personal attacks in the classroom should not be ignored, as your silence can signal unspoken approval. You can take a break for brainstorming before you discuss, or bring the issue to the next class. If a comment strikes you as ambiguous and surprising, ask the speaker for clarification.
- Be a resource. Find out about student clubs, events and initiatives, and campus offices that support LGBTQIA + students. For example, here at Temple we have our Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, the Wellness Resource Center, and the Career Center (which can refer students to organizations support in their discipline). Temple also hosts events like OuTU Fall Welcome and Lavender Graduation. Other universities support initiatives such as You can play the project that helps create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQIA + athletes.
- Watch out for pronouns. Put the pronouns you use on your electronic signature. This signals to students that you are sensitive to identities outside of the gender binary. You can also link your pronouns to one of the many sites this explains more about the different pronoun choices and the importance of correctly using the pronouns spoken by another. Refer correctly to students by pronouns they can tell you privately or through your course registration system. You can also encourage students to rename themselves in their Zoom window to reflect their pronouns so that they won’t be misinterpreted by other students.
- Be an ally. Take your school’s Safe Zone training and display your Certificate of Completion visible to students to demonstrate your alliance. If you identify as LGBTQIA +, Determine if self-identification would support course content, be a learning resource for your students, allow you to be your true self, and / or serve as a role model. It’s a personal decision that still carries risks, but also has rewards.
I would like to know what else you are doing to foster a more inclusive LGBTQIA + learning environment. Share them in the comments so we can all learn more.
Cliff Rouder, EdD, is the Pedagogy and Design Specialist at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University. His educational interests include issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Prior to this role, he was director of an accredited nutrition program that prepares students to become a registered dietitian-nutritionist. He received his doctorate in nutrition education from Teachers College, Columbia University. His disciplinary interests include food security and sustainable food systems.
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