Working with LGBTQ Students
Our students bring their identities, and backgrounds into our classrooms – and 18-22 year olds of all identities are frequently developing intellectually and socially, including related to gender and sexuality. Whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity, they may be at different stages in typical identity development.
L,G,B,T,Q,I and A students can be very different from one another. For example, Lesbians typically face different challenges from gay men who face different challenges from bisexuals who face different challenges from transgender students. Asexual students can often go unnoticed, and can be accidentally be made to feel invisible. In addition, within each category individual students have encountered different types of support or misunderstanding or discrimination or harassment from their families, schools, and communities. And of course individual students have various components of identity (religion, socioeconomic class, race or ethnicity, disability, etc.) that intersect and impact one’s experiences.
LGBTQIA students experiencing stereotype threat on campus may not be performing at their full potential; on the other hand, they may be superstars. You can learn what recent studies by Campus Pride and the Human Rights Campaign say about the State of Higher Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People and the experiences of gender-expansive youth.
Strategies to help LGBTQIA students learn & thrive
It’s helpful to be aware of some general inclusive teaching principles – including about how to create learning environments that are welcoming, trying to convey the same level of confidence in all students, trying to monitor whether you are being even-handed in responding to students, and respecting confidentiality. We don’t have to understand everything about an individual’s identity in order to be respectful. As when we work with any group of students, it’s helpful for us to consider our own knowledge and gaps in it, values, concerns, triggers, privileges or lack thereof, and our goals as instructors.
Other strategies to keep in mind.
- It’s best to try not to make assumptions. When you’re talking with any students, try not to assume you know about their gender identity or sexual orientation. Don’t assume that they need help (but it’s good to be familiar with Elon’s resources in case they do).
- Our students look to us to model appropriate behavior in classrooms. Seemingly small things we do and say can send powerful messages. Inclusive language (saying something as simple as “spouse or partner” instead of “husband”) lets LGBTQ students know you know they are in the room, as does using an occasional example that is relevant to your class material. Ask students their names and pronouns and respect students’ self-identification. Avoid needlessly gendered language.
- When it meets your disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or specific course goals, it can be valuable to integrate LGBTQIA, intersectional, identity, and diversity-related issues into the curriculum. Western Illinois University’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Access offers a few ideas for topics in literature, sociology, and social work courses, and Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education suggests other ideas for STEM, pre-health, accounting, history, music and General Education courses. For your own course, you might consider applying for one of Elon’s Diversity Infusion Grants to systematically consider how to do it in your courses.
- If another student says something that is insulting, stereotypical, or otherwise hurtful to LGBTQIA-identified students in your presence, it is best to find a way to respond in a way that acknowledges the problem and educates students in an effective manner. If you say nothing, the other students likely interpret your silence as agreement. Check out options suggested by Diane J. Goodman or talk with staff from Elon’s CATL.
- You can learn more from Campus Pride about how to be an ally to transgender students.
Works Cited & Resources
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is geared toward students younger than college age, but its Safe Space Kit can help you understand student experiences, become familiar with terminology, consider your own attitudes, and know ways you can be an ally.
Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge, 2007) includes a number of chapters and exercises related to teaching about heterosexism and transgender oppression.
“Making Excellence Inclusive: Higher Education’s LGBTQ Contexts,” AACU’s Diversity and Democracy 15, no. 1 (Winter 2012). This issue contains a number of short essays, including ones about institutional change, service learning, and LGBT studies at a variety of different institutions, including Michele DiPietro, “Applying the Seven Learning Principles to Creating LGBT-Inclusive Classrooms,” Diversity and Democracy (vol. 1, 2012).
For Elon-specific resources for LGBTQIA students and allies related to student organizations, housing, name changes, inclusive restrooms, counseling, bias incident reporting, how to get ally training sessions, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, see Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center website.