During my six years at the University of Connecticut, I had the opportunity to interact with many different faculty members across our campus community. This was particularly true during my final two years, when I coordinated our Rainbow Center’s Out to Lunch (OTL) Lecture Series. The OTL Lecture Series—our center’s largest and most attended recurring program—hosted fellow academics and community advocates, whose work dealt with contemporary intersectional issues and topics related to the LGBTQ+ community. While the OTL Lecture Series had served as a key fixture to the Rainbow Center’s programming for many years, we soon identified that it had missed opportunities in one key demographic on our campus: faculty.
Throughout the next two years, we worked to ensure that the OTL Lecture Series would become a program that also appealed to faculty, while the Rainbow Center also engaged more outreach to this segment of our campus community. Considering our work and the recent changes in federal educational policies pertaining to transgender students, using the OTL Lecture Series as a way to engage faculty around LGBTQ+ cultural competency soon became another key priority for managing the program. I’m happy to share that, throughout my two years with the Rainbow Center, we had numerous positive interactions with faculty, who had previously never come to our center or actively engaged queer topics in their classroom or research. These positive experiences and my perspective on how they were attained are the basis for this article about how to ensure faculty are LGBTQ+ competent in the classroom.
While you certainly want to be attuned to national and regional issues affecting queer and transgender students, a best practice is assessing what your faculty already know about the LGBTQ+ community before deciding what they need. In assessing this level of knowledge, I’d also recommend being aware of certain things like social desirability bias—a type of response bias where the respondent provides an answer that they hope will be viewed more favorably. In short, you want to ensure that you obtain a clear picture of what your faculty members know and being cognizant of potential issues of response bias can be helpful in getting truly accurate information about their existing knowledge and needs. For instance, you could use an anonymous forum to gauge how much your faculty know about LGBTQ+ issues, which can then assist you in developing and/or identifying trainings and resources that are useful to the faculty within your department.
Once you have assessed your faculty’s knowledge and needs, you can then use that information to identify various training and educational opportunities both within and around your campus community. For campuses with offices or centers specializing in supporting diverse student demographics, many of these spaces have safe zone or safe space trainings, which introduce basic concepts relevant to supporting and empathizing with LGBTQ+ students. In addition to this, there are, of course, a number of other external opportunities. To aid you in considering the available possibilities for advancing your faculty’s level of LGBTQ+ cultural competency, I’ve listed a variety of such opportunities here: online, queer-specific Title IX trainings from the Association of Title IX Administrators; regional and national LGBTQ+ education and inclusivity conferences like the Creating Change Conference; specialized, discipline-specific trainings that can be offered by colleagues at other institutions; and listservs like the one offered through the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals.
Once you have identified various training and educational opportunities for your faculty, a best practice is to motivate them to engage such resources when possible. While it may be tempting to encourage a number of simultaneous opportunities, this can be overwhelming for some faculty, and depending on your departmental culture, it may prove more effective to stagger the presentation of such opportunities throughout the academic year. In fact, staggering these trainings throughout the year can help your faculty stay more mindful of their queer and transgender students, which will further ensure that your department is moving in a more inclusive direction. As a rule, you’ll also want to ensure that you convey the complex and nuanced issues that can face LGBTQ+ students in a college classroom, such as ensuring correct pronoun usage, providing consistent representation in the curriculum, maintaining a healthy and open classroom environment, etc. This can further emphasize that true classroom inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students isn’t derived from one simple solution, training, or best practice.
As mentioned, there are several issues that can face queer and transgender students, and these can vary across intersectional identities within the community. Your faculty also might encounter LGBTQ+ students who face challenges both inside and outside of the classroom at any point during their academic careers, and your department will likely never be able to host a training to prepare faculty for every challenge that they might encounter. As such, I’d recommend that you be transparent with faculty members and explain that you hope to envision a departmental culture that will build this increased cultural competency consistently over time. This can assist faculty with anticipating your expectations, while also affirming your commitment to leading your department into a more LGBTQ+ inclusive direction. This final point will also help faculty remain cognizant that many issues facing queer and transgender college students—like the application of Title IX to transgender students—can change rapidly and without much prior notice. Given this reality, it is best to recognize that the work of inclusion is a continual process, rather than something that can be achieved in a single training session. With that in mind, there should be a continued expectation that faculty consider the multiple ways that they can support their LGBTQ+ students in any given course.
Dorian Rhea Debussy, PhD, is the associate director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College, where they support LGBTQ+ inclusivity initiatives both on and off campus. Their most recent work has been published by BUST Magazine, The Conversation, the Associated Press, and the Gay & Lesbian Review, among others.
This article first appeared in the July 2018 issue of Academic Leader. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.