As an assistant professor in a community college, my primary objectives are the education and success of my students. As both instructor AND academic advisor, I have the privilege of getting to know students on multiple levels. College life is filled with opportunities and explorations, as well as obstacles and trepidations. Unfortunately, the challenges of the college years are often exacerbated for sexual minority youth. One need only read the stories of Tyler Clementi, Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, and Raymond Chase to know just how difficult it can be for these students.
According to a 2003 assessment conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, more than one-third of GLBT undergraduate students have experienced harassment. Fifty-one percent of GLBT respondents conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid this harassment and other forms of intimidation. More than 40% of respondents to the survey reported their campus to be homophobic. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this survey is that the 15 colleges participating in the survey are among the very few who have GLBT student centers. What does this say about the safety and well-being of sexual minority youth in the other 5000 colleges around the country?
If we are true to our commitment to offer equal access to higher education, we must make our campuses safer and more accepting of our sexual minority students—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and intersexed youth and young adults. A number of resources, such as the Task Force, GLSEN (Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network), and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays) offer suggestions if you are interested in more information. Here are a few ideas:
Our institutions can help by recruiting LGBT faculty and staff, and faculty and staff who are allies to their LGBT colleagues. They should also have documented policy against harassment and other hate crimes against sexual minority students and employees. Moreover, there should be a mechanism in place for reporting such behaviors.
As faculty, we can help by integrating LGBT content into our curriculum. We should stand as allies to our sexual minority students, identifying ourselves as Safe Persons and our classes and offices as Safe Spaces. We should use inclusive language, avoiding gendered pronouns and using words like “partner” instead of girlfriend/boyfriend. We should make no assumptions:You do not know who is gay or straight in your classroom! And most importantly, we should not tolerate anti-gay/lesbian comments or behaviors. Address hateful acts and comments immediately by creating a teachable moment. We are, afterall, educators.
Robyn-Jay Bage, M.P.A. is a nonprofit CEO and community college Assistant Professor