Research from The Educational Forum: Navigating Disability and LGBTQ Identities in the Classroom

Today’s bloggerMiller is Ryan A. Miller, Ph.D., Director, Office for Inclusion and Equity at The University of Texas at Austin. He writes here to describe research published in an article in the current special issue of The Educational Forum on Sexuality, Gender, Identity, and Education.

Picture these scenarios from the perspective of a teacher:

  • Before you take attendance, a student shares with you that she is transgender, and that the name and gender marker on your roster incorrectly identifies her as male.
  • In classroom discussion, students use language that portrays disability and LGBTQ identities as inherently negative—referring to ideas with which they disagree as “crazy,” “gay,” or “lame.”
  • A student without a disability complains about the “unfairness” of not receiving the accommodations that a student with a disability receives.

Perhaps you are already familiar with one or more of these situations. For a student with a disability, or a student who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), these scenarios can be fraught with challenges. For students who live at the intersections of these identities, these potential difficulties can be amplified, and students will rely on their instructors to set the tone for an inclusive classroom climate.

My article in The Educational Forum chronicles the university classroom experiences of 25 LGBTQ students with disabilities and reveals that students carefully considered whether and how to disclose their identities to peers and instructors, become vocal advocates in class, and react to microaggressions they experienced. In many cases, an instructor made a difference—either positively (by setting a tone of inclusion, introducing diverse curricular materials, and intervening when bias occurred) or negatively (by questioning a student’s identity, refusing to provide disability-related accommodations, or permitting biased language).

Educators at all levels wield a significant amount of influence on the experience of students in their classrooms. Students who experience a hostile school climate, or derision from peers and other teachers, may find in you and your classroom a space in which they become a bit more comfortable with themselves, who they are, and who they will become. Given this influence, it becomes essential that educators understand how they can create and maintain a classroom climate that intentionally engages social justice issues, including but not limited to disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Instructors aiming to create an inclusive classroom climate might consider the following:

  • Reflect on your own formative experience and possible biases related to disability, gender, and sexuality—and how these biases may inform your teaching.
  • Learn about current terminology and concepts in disability and LGBTQ communities. Be open to learning new language.
  • Signal to students on day one that your classroom is an inclusive one by discussing relevant campus/classroom policies and including them in a syllabus or posted document.
  • Include representations of diverse identities in curricular and classroom materials, and acknowledge the many contributions of underrepresented groups.
  • Incorporate universal design concepts in your classes by varying your instructional materials and forms of student assessment to allow for the use of different strengths and skillsets.
  • Encourage the engagement of all students with diversity, rather than relying upon one or two students to educate the rest of the class or use their personal experiences as teaching moments.
  • Intervene when biased language or discrimination occurs in your classroom.
  • Strategize with colleagues on how to create a more inclusive classroom and campus climate.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Miller’s article free with the education community through November 30, 2015. Read the full article here

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