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Most faculty members want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so. Student Affairs research shows that the campus climate affects student experiences. How students experience their campus environment influences both learning and developmental outcomes (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005). Discriminatory environments have a negative effect on student learning (Cabrera, Nora, Terenzini, Pascarella, & Hagedron, 1999). The unfortunate reality is that few campuses are safe spaces for LGBTQ students.
As a result, more and more faculty members are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and college campuses are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations. To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 12 things faculty can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students. Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.
• Use precise terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) rather than homosexual or gay as an umbrella term.
• Use terms like partner instead of boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife.
• Language like, “That’s so gay” or “You’re such a fag” is common in schools, and it actively creates an unsafe environment for LGBTQ students and LGBTQ Allies. We must respond to (and be sure not to ignore such language).
• Don’t simply be punitive with hurtful language. Instead, explain why it is not welcome and is hurtful. This helps students understand why they shouldn’t use the language rather than just making them avoid using it around you.
• Building relationships with students is wonderful! Ask about students’ lives, but don’t assume heterosexuality in your language. A question like, “Are you seeing anybody these days?” goes a lot further than, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
• There are certain things like abuse that we cannot keep confidential, but outside of that, make sure students feel safe by always keeping what they share confidential.
• Create a space in which students can talk to you about their struggles, helping all students to understand that you are someone they can talk to during free time.
• Be careful never to “out” an LGBTQ student, meaning that if a student is not open in their sexual orientation and they share that with you, be careful not to share that information with others. Sometimes being out can be more dangerous than being closeted.
• It’s tough to know the best way to respond to bullying. Sometimes it means interrupting bullying as it happens. Sometimes it means talking to the bullies or the bullied afterward.
• In responding to bullying, be careful to not make the target out to be the weak one in the situation, as that can make bullying worse in the long run.
• Support them in their decisions and their needs, helping them to make safe choices that will help them be happy and fully realized as a young person.
• Questions like, “Are you sure?” “Could this be a phase?” are not helpful.
• Respect the names students wish to be called and the pronouns they prefer. When unsure, ask the individual one on one with empathy and respect.
• Respect the clothing choices students make, supporting them as they figure out how they want to perform their gender.
• Be aware of the usage of a class roster system (people soft for example) for attendance purposes or visibly displayed to the class, the name listed on the roster may not be the student’s preferred name and could out the student to classmates. Transgender students often do not have the money to legally change their name.
• Dialogue and discussion inside and outside the classroom are helpful and healthy so long as respectful. Don’t shut down conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity, but make sure to facilitate the conversation down inclusive roads and correct misconceptions.
• Minority students often report either feeling invisible in class, or sticking out like a sore thumb as the token minority. This experience is heightened when they are addressed as spokespeople for their whole group, and can have implications on performance (Lord & Saenz, 1985).
• Are certain perspectives systematically not represented in your course materials (e.g., a course on family focusing only on traditional families, or a course on public policy ignoring race issues)? Neglecting some issues implies a value judgment (Hooks 1994), which can alienate certain groups of students. Please refer to the “Suggestions to Incorporate LGBT Subject Matter Into Class Curriculum” page.
• Humble yourself and apologize where necessary; learn from your mistakes, and always try to broaden your understanding of LGBTQ issues so you can best support all of your students.
• Inclusive communities experience less bullying and violence.
• Inclusive communities are likely to boast higher achievement and stronger school spirit.
For more ideas for building an inclusive community, check out the recommendations for positive interventions and support from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
These materials have been adapted from global ascension productions.