In 2018 LGBT in Britain released their Universities Report. Some of the key findings were that two in five LGBT students have hidden their identity at university for fear of discrimination; three in five trans students have been the target of negative comments or conduct from other students; and many students did not feel confident reporting any homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying to university staff.
I listened to Jennifer Gonzalez’s podcast Cult of Pedagogy ‘Episode 82: Making School a Safe Place for LGBTQ Students’ to reflect more on what I can do. While we don’t control everything, we can set the tone to be an effective ally and support student performance and wellbeing. Gonzalez discusses nine actions:
- Educate yourself.
- Check your biases.
- Teach inclusively.
- Be visible as an ally.
- Respond to anti-LGBTQ behaviour.
- Support students who come out.
- Support a student LGBTI group.
- Revisit your school policies.
- Educate your colleagues.
It is not just about creating a safe space but also ensuring that our curriculum and course materials are not just a whitewash of middle class, cis-gendered men and heteronormative language and bias. We need to review our teaching material to make sure that we have representation.
Apart from just being a human being and wanting to treat all people with respect. I teach a third-year course called ‘Crime: Perspective of Race and Gender,’ over two weeks we talked about transgender people’s experiences in the criminal justice system. My students were really curious and had a lot of questions. I released that I may not have all the skills to manage that conversation, because I wanted to encourage their curiosity to be able to educate them but not cause any harm at the same time.
My institution held a session on ‘Trans awareness: The basics’ facilitated by Ellis Johnson on behalf of Gendered Intelligence. It was really useful to talk through scenarios that had occurred in class and get additional advice on how to facilitate conversations further. Ellis Johnson recommended the YouTuber Kat Blaque as a resource to consider further some of the scenarios we talked about. While I was really happy to be able to undertake this training, I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of attendance from staff.
I want to make sure that all our students are included, do not face discrimination or barriers at university. I do not want our university to engage in Pink Washing – which is the practice of a company presenting itself as gay-friendly or progressive to downplay their negative behaviour or promote itself and its services. While my institution does do some things, more can be done. What I want to see and what I need is training for ALL staff, not just optional workshops a couple of times a year (which may clash with teaching schedules) or a couple of sentences at induction when you start at the university. Language changes and we need to make sure we stay up to date.
What I am going to do to be an effective ally:
- Set rules for engagement for all classes at the beginning of the semester.
- Continue to use gender-neutral, non-gendered language.
- Continue to make sure to review teaching materials to ensure that they are inclusive through the representation of different populations.
- Advocate for more training.