10 Academic Strategies for a More Inclusive LGBTQ Classroom
by Saralyn Chesnut, Ph.D., and Angela C. Nichols M.S., Ed.
Often when considering options to improve a campus climate for LGBTQ students, the focus is on what happens outside the classroom-having active LGBTQ student organizations, making sure residence halls and public spaces are safe and welcoming, offering LGBTQ-specific co-curricular events and programs, and educating staff and administrators about the needs and concerns of LGBTQ students. However, on a college of university campus what happens in the classroom often carries more weight than anything else. LGBTQ students can feel strongly validated, or have their existence further marginalized. This all depends on how LGBTQ-inclusive the course and the professors are in teaching the subject matter. The following resource offers ten strategies for creating LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms; they range from simple suggestions that individual faculty members can pursue, to measures that require a significant commitment on behalf of faculty and administrators.
LGBTQ Strategies for Individual Faculty Members
- INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE AND EXAMPLES – Always assume that there is at least one LGBTQ student in every class. Use language that reflects that assumption; for example, use gender-neutral pronouns, and terms like “partner” instead of “wife” or “husband” or even “spouse”. When you use examples to illustrate a point, avoid using examples that are exclusively drawn from the heterosexual world, and throw in a specifically LGBTQ one from time to time.
- ADDRESS DEROGATORY COMMENTS – Decide ahead of time how you will handle off-hand or off-topic derogatory comments about LGBTQ people made by students in your classes. Do not just let them go unchallenged. You might simply remind your students that there are likely to be LGBTQ students in each class they’re in, and make clear that in your classroom, you expect people to respect one another despite differences of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, etc…
- ESTABLISH GROUND RULES FOR DIALOGUE – Carefully prepare each class for difficult discussions, especially in courses in which LGBTQ issues are on the syllabus (e.g. a religion course that will include material about that what the Bible does/does not say about “homosexuality”). The intent is not to stifle speech of freedom of expression of (informed) opinions, but to create an atmosphere in which everyone’s personhood will be respected. Before any discussion takes place, establish ground rules that will ensure this, and during discussions, enforce the ground rules.
- INCORPORATE SPECIFIC CONTENT INTO CURRICULUM – Incorporate LGBTQ content into your courses whenever possible. For example, a course on social movements would include the LGBTQ rights movement; a literature course in which Walt Whitman is read would include mention of Whitman’s sexual orientation, a course on feminist theory would include lesbian feminist theory; and so on.
- LEARN MORE AND INVOLVE YOURSELF – To prepare yourself, take advantage of opportunities your campus provides to learn more about LGBTQ people, as well as about LGBTQ studies. Seek opportunities to develop your knowledge of the contributions of LGBTQ studies scholars in your discipline. If your campus has a Safe Space/Zone of ally program, participate in it. Attend LGBT events, and get to know LGBTQ students on a one on one basis.
LGBTQ Strategies for Faculty Groups and Administrators
Underlying these suggested strategies is the assumption that in order to equip both faculty and administrators to create LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms, a campus must commit resources to the LGBTQ academic experience. Campus administrators should seek ways to make available the knowledge, theories, and insights developed by scholars in the burgeoning, interdisciplinary field of LGBTQ studies. As faculty and administrators develop knowledge in this area of inquiry, they will be better informed for LGBT inclusion efforts. Specifically,faculty can gain knowledge that will enable them to incorporate LGBTQ content into courses they are already teaching.
- DEVELOP BROWN-BAG LUNCH DISCUSSIONS – Hold a series of brown-bag lunch discussions on topics in LGBTQ studies, where interested faculty, staff, and students can come together to read and comment on each others work, or read and discuss a book or article, in LGBTQ studies.
- ENCOURAGE AND RECOGNIZE OUTSTANDING WORK – Offer prizes for outstanding student work in LGBT/queer studies topics, on both the graduate and undergraduate levels if possible. This will encourage student work in LGBTQ studies and increase the visibility of LGBTQ students and pursuit of scholarship. Publicize the awards extensively, including ads in student and faculty/staff campus newspapers. The work eligible for a prize should include papers written for courses at the institution, papers presented at conferences, and chapters of dissertations and theses. A faculty committee can evaluate the work and select the graduate and undergraduate winners. Ideally, the awards will be presented at a public event by a top-level administrator.
- PLAN ANNUAL EVENTS FOR ACADEMIC LEARNING – Go one step beyond a brown-bag lunch series by establishing a lecture series in LGBTQ studies: Each year, bring to campus several scholars in LGBTQ studies to give formal lectures, offer colloquia, and meet informally with interested faculty. Funding can come from academic departments as well as potentially from student groups. A committee made up of faculty, relevant staff, and students could meet regularly to plan and publicize the specific lectures and other topical events.
- CREATE ONGOING DEVELOPMENT SEMINAR FOR FACULTY – To go even further with the goal of preparing faculty to include LGBTQ content in non-LGBTQ studies courses, offer a faculty development seminar that would meet over the course of a semester or even a year. The seminar could be taught by a faculty member who has expertise in the field of LGBTQ studies, or by a visiting professor or series of professors, brought to campus for just this purpose.
- BUILD AND INSTITUTIONALIZE COURSE OFFERINGS – Offer as many courses as possible specifically in LGBTQ studies. The courses may initially be taught by existing faculty and teaching assistants with some expertise in an area of LGBTQ studies. Once a number of courses are being offered, and student interest has been documented, departments that are hiring can be urged to consider hiring someone with a specialty in LGBTQ studies; for example, an English department might look for someone with a specialty in queer literature or queer theory.