Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gender and Sexuality in the Classroom

In our workshop on gender and sexuality in the classroom, we sought ideas about how to make our classrooms safe, inclusive spaces.

To that end, we found various resources.

First, there are the resources available on our campus, including:

UC Davis Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center

Located in the Student Community Center


Women’s Resources and Research Center

Located in North Hall


Just being aware of these resources is useful – knowing about them is the first step in being able to direct students to them as needed. Still, distributing this information at the start of a course can be a useful strategy. By including information on your syllabus about gender and GLBT support systems on campus, you increase visibility of a range of identities and may demonstrate an open, aware attitude, enhancing the sense that your classroom is a safe space.

Other potential resources for talking about gender and sexuality in the classroom include various implicit bias tests. These psychological tests can help you and your students better understand the implicit beliefs about gender and sexuality that we might be unaware of having. The tests can help you consider your own approaches to gender and sexuality in an academic context, or you can use them as touchstones for classroom discussions about these topics, if relevant to the course you are teaching. Check out Project Implicit at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

The Speakers Bureau of the Chancellor’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Issues is one specific resource to consider for your classroom (again, if relevant to the course you are teaching). These trained speakers (made up of undergrads, graduate students, and other members of the Davis community) do presentations and question-and-answer sessions at for classes, student groups, and the like. During this workshop, a panel of four speakers visited the GTC, gave brief biographical sketches of themselves, then answered our questions. In the process, they offered several ideas about how to cultivate open and inviting classrooms with regard to a diversity of genders and sexualities.

These ideas centered around the following topics: 1) language and identity, 2) keeping the classroom safe, and 3) actively making the classroom an inclusive, inviting space.

1) Responding to questions, the panelists discussed how language and identity intersect. Though there was a diversity of preferences among the panelists about how they choose to identify, there seemed to be consensus that finding out how someone wishes to identify is important. Using an individual's preferred terminology communicates respect.

2) There were also several questions about how to respond to derogatory language and/or marginalization around sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the classroom. In situations where you think a student may be being marginalized because of his or her gender or sexual identity, the panelists suggested first talking to the marginalized student. Rather than immediately and loudly intervening in a situation, ask the student who you think may have been marginalized what s/he wants from you. Respect for the student's preferences

3) The panelists also discussed ways to go beyond dealing with negative situations – they offered multiple ideas about how to actively promote a sense of inclusive community in the classroom and beyond. Several speakers discussed past instructors that had incorporated images and material to demonstrate that they were thinking beyond heteronormative models. For example, one of the panelists discussed a lecture class in which the instructor had photos of a large network of family and friends with all sorts of different matings and pairings. A participant in the workshop who teaches developmental psychology also talked about how she includes multiple models of family structures – not just nuclear, heteronormative ones – in her lectures and discussions. Some of the panelists also talked about how using artwork and decorations in one's office can communicate inclusion.

While obviously these ideas do not exhaust the ways in which one might promote safety and inclusivity in the classroom, we hope that they can serve as a starting point.

Courtesy of Molly Ball and Emily Newton

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