Everyone is wary of the unknown. When students come to college, they are both scared and curious about how they will be received by their peers, seniors, supervisors, and professors. As a general rule of thumb, higher education institutions should strive to make the shared space between academics and students safe and fun.
This is especially important for the most vulnerable students of the lot who are looking for security and acceptance during a time that will shape most of their adult life. Providing LGBTQ students with an inclusive curriculum, supportive staff, and school policies that are accepting of them can positively impact their learning outcomes and help them feel a sense of belonging to their college. Here are some tips that you, as an administrator or teacher, can take to ensure students feel heard and accepted in your educational institution.
Show support with peace signs
When students enter college, they likely have not talked to many people on campus. The first sign of safety they might feel is through the slogans and posters they find on walls and bulletin boards. You can post multiple LGBTQ acceptance signs around classrooms, halls, or other common shared student spaces so that LGBTQ youth feel at ease. It conveys that you, as an educator, care about a student’s identity and mental well-being and are willing to challenge anti-LGBTQ harassment or language. It also leaves the door open for vulnerable youth to come and have open discussions with their professors, supervisors, or counselors in an LGBTQ context.
Get the administration to commit
As a teacher, you can push the institution to devise policies and specific programs for LGBTQ youth that make them feel welcome on campus. While your administration might not be trying to discriminate, there is a need to make additional policies for vulnerable students so their academic experience is not affected by any bias. It is always good to be clear in your policies so students don’t feel misrepresented. Plus, you don’t leave room for misinterpretation.
Perhaps the college needs to revise its sexual harassment policy. Are they inclusive in how gender or sexual identity is mentioned in the handbooks? Advocate for their rights and bring to attention things that might be overlooked. LGBTQ students will appreciate your sincere interest in helping them find their voices and a place in the college.
According to the American Federation of Teachers, school-based extracurricular groups are likely to shape school climate, affect student performance, and address inequality. As an administrator or a teacher, you can advocate for an LGBTQ community so it can help reduce discrimination against students and give them a space where they feel a sense of belonging.
These communities can create awareness through seminars or campaigns to ensure the college policies and curriculum are inclusive. Not only does this create a culture of acceptance, but when prospective LGBTQ students find out about such communities, they are less worried about what might happen.
On the first day of college or any time you are meeting with new students at the start of the semester, give out a survey as an opportunity for students to talk about themselves. Ensure you’re the only one who will read the answers and when you do, make the conscious effort to use their pronouns correctly. This will make students feel like they are being represented in some capacity and that their professor is interested in getting to know more about their gender identity or a lack thereof.
Keep the language of the survey gender-neutral, and carefully word the questions. For example, you can introduce yourself and your pronouns in the survey and give students room to write one independently. Of course, pronouns can keep changing for a student, so it is important to check in with students often.
Address any microaggressions and avoid them after
If there is a scenario where either you or some student makes anunintentionally biased comment, the best way to deal with it is to address, apologize, and avoid it next time. Microagressions are easy to overlook at times. While their cuts might not be as deep at the start, they eventually become too much to handle, adversely affecting the one on the receiving end. For example, something as simple as saying, “it is too much to remember all of this stuff.” This means you’re not ready to listen closely to what people have to say, coming off as insensitive and inattentive.
In a classroom, be careful of what you say. If you see students passing such comments, be the first to correct them and explain what they are saying can be harmful to other people. For the most part, talking and advocating for LGBTQ youth is the key to making a marginalized group feel safe in a world that is too harsh on them.
make LGBTQ-affirming healthcare accessible
Mental and physical health are crucial factors in ensuring success for students in college. When first-year students come into college, they can have a rough experience as they meet a diverse group of people, transition, or settle into openly being themselves on campus. This can be overwhelming for them.
To cater to their needs having a counselor and an LGBTQ-affirming therapist can be crucial. Plus, students who have medical insurance should be able to access treatments necessary for maintaining mental health or medical transitioning.
As an educator and an administrator, you ought to understand that having inclusive policies and a positive environment when it comes to LGBTQ could save lives. Even a small addition of pronouns in your curriculum can make a difference. Advocating for their rights, standing up to homophobic conversations, or microaggression within the class and outside of it can make students feel at ease. You can get professionals to help ensure that your college is inclusive, affirming, and safe for LGBTQ youth. Having SOPs for harassment and bullying specific to LGBTQ can do wonders by making students feel safe in college. These tips are small steps in the right direction to making your college/university LGBTQ inclusive.