‘Inclusion’ in higher education (HE) is a loaded word; and wherever your mind wanders when confronted with the term, very few people’s minds would think of the inclusion of LGBT+ people. Being LGBT+ at university has been conventionally considered a ‘personal’ or ‘private’ matter. Although, of course, queerphobia will be dealt with should it occur, very little thought has been given to how an LBGT+ identity might affect enhance learning and teaching at university.
On the fifteenth and sixteenth of September I went to the first ever LGBTQ in HE conference in Birmingham, a group of academics came together to consider exactly this topic, bringing with them some small and local research from their own institutions and some ideas about how our institutions could make movements to improve the campus climate for its LGBT+ community. Across the course of the two days we heard about research to suggest that LGBT+ students studying at university were more likely to discontinue their studies and more likely to suffer from mental health problems during the course of their studies than their cis-gendered, heterosexual peers. Following on from this, there were discussions about how we might improve on this.
- A is for Ally: Cis-gendered, heterosexual people who want to proactively support the LGBT+ community are termed as ‘allies’. Staff allies can help support the campus LGBT+ community by proactively engaging with LGBT+ events and groups on campus, and doing so visibly. Being able to signpost LGBT+ students to relevant services and celebrating events like LGBT+ history month in your classroom sends a welcoming message to students and personal tutees alike. Being visibly supportive of the university’s LGBT+ community creates a safe space for students to be in.
- Visible ‘out and proud’ role models: if staff are able to be seen out and proud this sends a message to students that the institution is not queerphobic. Although this does rely on staff being confident that their LGBT+ identity will not impact on their career, the University’s staff LGBT+ network is a good place to start thinking about ways in which we can act as role models.
- Queering the curriculum: the curriculum can be looked at from two angles: the explicit curriculum, i.e. what we are teaching; and the hidden curriculum, which communicates to students the values of the institution. Therefore, including more queer material in the classroom sends a positive message about the institution’s attitude towards its LGBT+ community. Including LGBT+ material for the sake of it can be irritating to both staff and students and therefore this will mean active and critical engagement with the scholarship and examples in order to include material which adds to the course. This can be done by devoting a particular week of the course to the topic, or by weaving the material throughout the course.
Of course, this does not solely relate to LGBT+ communities on campus; an inclusive university aims to represent its population in its classrooms and that also means including material pertaining to people of colour, women, and disabled people amongst many others. The conscious engagement with diversity both in the classroom and through the planned curriculum is imperative for the twenty-first century university – I hope that you will reflect on this.
In December, Teaching Matters will feature a number of blog posts on diversity, equality, and inclusion in learning and teaching. If you’d like to contribute please get in touch.