“Queering the Academy”?
Approaches and responses to LGBT inclusive curricula
One of the great things about LGBT history month is the renewed public interest it can bring to the academic disciplines of gender studies and sexuality studies. With programmes like the first MA in Queer History, it’s clear that there is still a dedicated space in higher education for learning and researching these topics (exploring and debating different language and terminology along the way).
But how do we ensure that diversity of gender and sexual identities is acknowledged and respected in other classrooms and, in particular, that LGBT+ students in those classrooms can see their own lives and experiences reflected within different subject areas?
‘Inclusive education’ can refer to a broad range of policy, pedagogy and practice, but at its heart, the concept focusses on an approach to learning and teaching which seeks to maximise the participation and attainment of diverse groups of learners.
Just as LGBT history month asks us to disrupt traditional historical narratives (dominated by hetero- and cis-normativity), so inclusive curricula can help to disrupt our assumptions and barriers. We can de-marginalise LGBT identities, histories and experience: incorporating them into course content, theories, case studies, and even citational practice to provide a sense of belonging.
Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester has been incorporating LGBT+ issues into his teaching for almost twenty years: from examining the museum sector’s engagement with trans activism, using MOOCs to shake up assumptions of ‘traditional’ content, and inviting relevant visiting speakers from industry and the arts.
While LGBT+ students have praised the fact that diverse sexualities and gender identities are discussed “so openly and positively”, Professor Sandell points out the benefits of exposure to such content for all students in the field:
“The best museums and galleries are actively exploring ways of engaging with and progressing equality themes – making a positive difference to people’s lives and lending their support for groups whose rights are routinely denied or violated. By exploring these ideas openly on our courses, we are equipping students to go back into the sector and make a real difference – to innovate and make change in powerful ways.”
This appreciation of the long-term benefits of LGBT-inclusive curricula for the professionals of tomorrow is also being seen in other disciplines which require interaction with a diverse range of people: whether that be healthcare, social care or teacher training – all trends discussed in last year’s conference at the University of Birmingham on LGBT Inclusivity in Higher Education, under the theme of “training professionals”.
LGBT-inclusive curricula isn’t just about providing individual students or groups of students with a more inclusive experience in their classroom: it’s also about teaching and learning environments which actively seek to draw attention to diversity of experience, histories and identities of the world in which our graduates will work, live and interact.
Exploring ways to deliver a curriculum more inclusive of LGBT+ issues will, of course, meet with a challenge from students or colleagues who either don’t see the ‘relevance’ of such content or who find such content difficult, unfamiliar or even contrary to their individual beliefs.
Here it is important to remember that HEIs have a public sector equality duty under the Equality Act to foster good relations between people of different groups: HEIs’ work in this area can be helped by sharing reflections on missed opportunities and how to facilitate respectful discussion.
We must also be careful not to make assumptions about the views held by different groups, nor as to any homogeneity amongst LGB+ students and/or amongst trans learners. Indeed to be truly inclusive there must be acknowledgement that some individuals may experience multiple disadvantage relating to, for example, ethnicity, faith or disability.
In approaching inclusive education then we must as a sector remain vigilant against assumptions, creative in our practice, and – most of all – receptive in learning from our own communities.