LGBTQ Inclusive Curriculum and Classroom Climate
October 2, 2013, the Center for Ethics Education hosted a discussion with Fordham faculty and teaching fellows on creating LGBTQ inclusive classroom experiences. Our discussion included brief presentations by Fordham faculty from different departments and honest discussion illuminating opportunities for and challenges of creating LGBTQ curricula and welcoming classroom climate. Below are recommendations and helpful teaching resources that emerged from this very fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue.
LGBTQ Teaching Recommendations
In the Classroom
Let students know we care for all our LGBTQ students and colleagues because we are a Catholic, Jesuit Institution. Many students may come to Fordham erroneously believing that a Catholic, Jesuit institution must be an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ persons. Including LGBTQ materials and conversations into the classroom can help students understand the characteristics of our university mission that embrace principles of social justice and recognize the dignity and uniqueness of each person.
Challenge heterosexist assumptions. Throughout their lives, many LGBTQ students have been given the implicit message that heterosexuality is the norm. In the classroom, the presumption of heterosexuality places an unfair burden on LGBTQ students to silently suffer feelings of exclusion or to “out” themselves. Faculty can reduce that burden by taking a personal inventory of heterosexist assumptions followed by specific actions to demonstrate that we recognize, respect and value students of diverse gender and sexual orientations in the classroom.
Develop inclusive rather than “us/them” terminology. Develop a pedagogical style that avoids using language that implies heterosexist classroom norms. For example, the use of “we” in the following well-intentioned sentence may nonetheless support assumptions of LGBTQ classroom minority status: “Even though it is outside our experience, we need to try and understand the life challenges of persons who are LGBTQ.” An alternative might be “All students benefit from understanding the life challenges of persons who are LGBTQ.”
Weave LGBTQ content and materials throughout the course curriculum. Providing students with a course outline that includes LGBTQ content is one means of explicitly challenging student heterosexist assumptions and misconceptions about the characteristics of a Jesuit education. Whenever possible, disperse LGBTQ readings and discussion throughout the course to avoid creating the impression that LGBTQ course content can only be tangential to the goals and activities of your discipline.
Increase visibility of LGBTQ role models and allies. Visible LGBTQ adult role models are often absent on campus. Whether or not one identifies as LGBTQ, all faculty can be visible as LGBTQ allies through participation in or leadership in creating University sponsored LGBTQ activities that demonstrate how we live out Fordham’s mission with regard to respect and caring for LGBTQ students. When LGBTQ topics are less salient to the specific course content, faculty can select readings by or bring in speakers who are openly LGBTQ experts in the course content area.
Create a classroom climate in which the perspectives of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ students are valued. Nurturing respectful dialogue on LGBTQ relevant issues requires faculty sensitivity to the ways in which all students struggle on their path towards development as a whole person. Moving the student body in the direction of LGBTQ inclusiveness requires both the continued affirmation of LGBTQ human rights and dignity as well as sensitivity to straight students who may be struggling with societal and personal biases and misconceptions. Comments in the classroom that stigmatize or hurt LGBTQ students should always be addressed since silence may often be seen as confirmation of such beliefs. Addressing such comments without condemning the student(s) who made them provides faculty the opportunity to foster classroom dialogue that respectfully reflects Fordham’s commitment to life-long learning and the principles of social justice.
Master the art of “bumbling”. All teachers have experienced times when to our deep consternation we realize we have used a poorly chosen phrase that may have created discomfort or unintentionally exacerbated feelings of exclusion among social minorities. Rather than avoiding LGBTQ topics for fear of saying the wrong thing, faculty can embrace our vulnerability to misstatements and commit to attaining the knowledge necessary to address student misconceptions or discomforts in the next class session. This technique also provides a model for students of openness to others and the value of life-long learning.
In Our Departments
Promote new thinking about course offerings and course content. Many faculty assume that developing new courses and including course content on sexuality and sexual orientation are not acceptable at Fordham. Departments can encourage faculty who wish to do so to propose LGBTQ or Queer Studies courses or revise course content that teaches students about discipline-based contemporary LGBTQ scholarship and cultural issues.
Provide opportunity for discussion and faculty support. Scheduling time during faculty meetings to discuss LGBTQ issues can increase faculty sensitivity and encourage creative suggestions for enhancing LGBTQ departmental inclusiveness. Encouraging peer consultation on everyday classroom issues that may arise can also help lend support for mastering the art of “bumbling”.
Provide mentorship for teaching fellows, adjunct instructors and junior faculty. Junior faculty, teaching fellows and adjunct instructors may not be as fully aware that Fordham’s commitment to the principles of social justice and to the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each person extends to curricula and course content. Similarly, they may not realize the extent of departmental flexibility for inclusion of LGBTQ content and discussions in class. Departments can allay such concerns through proactively seeking suggestions for new course offerings as well as displaying openness to inclusion of LGBTQ materials in core courses. Active peer mentoring can also help assuage possible concerns and broaden offerings within the department.
Develop discipline-relevant resource lists. Departments can encourage LGBTQ education and scholarship through the development of LGBTQ readings and resource lists that faculty, teaching fellows and instructors can draw upon for course development. Such a list can also serve to open avenues for students to conduct LGBTQ inclusive undergraduate and graduate research.
Increase faculty and student awareness of LGBTQ Fordham resources. The Center for Ethics Education has assembled a collection of LGBTQ resources (available at www.fordham.edu/LGBTresources) for faculty and instructors, including resources related to general teaching, relevant Fordham organizations, centers, student clubs, and discipline-specific articles and resources on including LGBTQ content across a variety of curricula.
LGBTQ Teaching Resources
Find teaching resources to assist faculty, teaching fellows, and adjunct instructors in integrating LGBTQ content into the curriculum and foster inclusive classroom and campus climates below. The Center for Ethics Education will periodically update the information and welcomes suggestions and resources from administrators, faculty and students, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are recommendations and resources developed from our discussion. These may also be downloaded as a pdf attachment. Please contact the event organizers with any question: Celia Fisher, Director, Center for Ethics Education, Adam Fried, Assistant Director, Center for Ethics Education