Nondiscriminatory Discourse in the Area of Classroom Instruction
Prepared by the Task Force on LGBT
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)
Hofstra University has strong anti-discrimination policies in all areas, and we do not permit discrimination based upon sexual orientation. This policy applies throughout the University, with regard to employment opportunities and throughout all academic areas. It is particularly important in the area of classroom instruction.
We all want the college or university classroom to be a place where information and knowledge are dispensed equitably. However, there may be times when instructors behave or speak in ways that unintentionally demean LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people or exclude them from full participation in the classroom. Sexual orientation discrimination in the classroom may involve comments or actions or allowing unchallenged comments or actions by students that single out or ignore LGBT issues or people which may, in turn, discourage LGBT students from feeling comfortable in the classroom or reaching their full academic potential.
The fact that much discrimination against LGBT people is intangible or unconscious permits some well-meaning people to dismiss or ignore cautionary advice. However, there is little doubt that this behavior not only puts LGBT students at a distinct educational disadvantage but also reinforces their feeling that the campus is an unwelcome place. LGBT students have talked openly about classroom situations that have made them uncomfortable and in some cases silenced them. Such circumstances may also have other lasting effects. In particular, such actions may discourage both classroom participation and seeking help outside the class; it may cause LGBT students to avoid or to drop classes or to change majors, and it may even undermine their scholarly and career aspirations.
Much discriminatory behavior is not deliberate since faculty consciously wish to treat all students fairly. Yet faculty have the power to control many events and interactions in their classrooms, and in so doing they transmit not only objective information but also attitudes and emotions. In this process, faculty who tacitly or overtly devalue LGBT students or allow such comments to go unchallenged may diminish these students' confidence and enthusiasm for learning and create long-lasting impediments to academic, professional, and personal growth.
The damage is the same when the discrimination is based on race, gender, religion, age, or other physical or cultural characteristics. Thus, a useful test for determining whether behavior may be considered objectionable to LGBT students is to imagine addressing similar kinds of behavior to members of a racial or other minority group.
Among the most frequent forms of unintentional discrimination is the assumption of heterosexuality. Instructors should be careful not to address questions that take a student's sexuality for granted. And when giving general classroom examples, it should not be assumed that everyone in any given sample of people is heterosexual, just as one would not assume that everyone seeks to be married or to have children.
Here are some examples of sexual orientation discrimination in the classroom:
- explicit use of derogatory terms or stereotypic generalizations;
- use of "gay" to mean strange, bizarre, odd, abnormal or unacceptable;
- use of perceived "humorous" images or statements that demean or trivialize LGBT people;
- reinforcement of stereotypes through subtle, often unintentional means, such as by using classroom examples in which LGBT people are portrayed in certain occupations;
- refusal to allow LGBT issues or people to be discussed or failure to include such examples in discussion; here one may include LGBT issues along with a discussion of race and gender; also one could mention notable LGBT individuals important in one's content area;
- continuous use of heterosexist terms and/or making the assumption that all people are heterosexual. Such assumptions evoke biased images in students' minds and effectively eliminate LGBT people as subjects of discourse even though the elimination may be unintentional, effectively rendering LGBT people peripheral or invisible;
- not challenging anti-LGBT statements or comments made by others in the classroom;
- addressing the class as if there were no LGBT students in it by using examples confined to heterosexual couples or experiences;
- treating LGBT students who continue to raise LGBT-related issues as representing all LGBT people;
- harassing LGBT students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.