• Qaareva

Six Changes for a More LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Education

In this article, Qaareva (the Queer Students’ Association) introduces six ideas on why and how education needs to change. LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, creating safer spaces for learning and having up-to-date information on queer rights are just the beginning. What else can be done to make sure queer students feel safe, supported and welcome in education?

 

1. Seeing education as multidimensional

Education is much more than an environment for aquiring knowledge. At its best, it is a place for learning emotional skills, how to have successful interactions and how to face each other just as we are. From early school years, education helps to shape our perceptions of ourselves and others, what is right and wrong, what is appropriate and inappropriate. Therefore, the educational resources that best promote and strengthen the well-being of queer students should be cherished.


For queer learners of all ages, it is particularly important to reinforce the notion that everyone is valuable as they are. It is important that education is there to provide experiences of fairness, being respected and accepted. The school world and studying also give an opportunity to learn about one’s own boundaries, identity, ways of self-expression and community. Not all of this always happens, but seeing education from a broader perspective would improve the well-being of queer learners, affecting life outside their studies and strengthening the community.


2. Creating a safer space for everyone

In order to learn emotional or practical skills in school, an open and receptive atmosphere is required. When a safer space is actively created, it becomes easier for both students and teachers to be themselves. In this environment, everyone is closer to having respectful discussions about the LGBTQIA+ community, and able to learn more about human rights and feel safe without fear or judgment.


One of the biggest threats for safer space is hate speech from inside and outside the study community. Uninclusive speach and acts, LGBTQIA+ phobia and other forms of discrimination, like disrespectful comments, are luckily preventable. Actions against LGBTQIA+ community can be prevented by introducing safer space guidelines for everyone in class and following them in all forms of education. Everyone should have the right to learn and teach in a safe environment, and that’s why creating a safer space for everyone in education is so important.


3. Intersectionality

Educational institutions often reflect the power structures of society, making it difficult to see a representation of one’s own queer identity, and the likelihood decreases if a person belongs to more than one minority. Although there are a few queer-themed courses at the university level, they don’t represent us in a realistic way. As we all know, there are hundreds of queer people in the University of Helsinki. As a result, we can’t be just an optional course in a 3-year diploma – queer people have to be included in every course.


This way, intersectionality could materialize more easily in practice, and the diversity of our voices could be heard. In one study, a student expressed that, because he doesn’t have a space where all of his poc and queer identities meet, it “feels like they’re exclusive from each other” and in social situtations they have to focus only on one of them.


4. Interactive pedagogies

It is often thought that there are only two parties in teaching: the teacher and the student. The division of roles seems clear, the teacher teaches and the student’s job is to learn. However, this perspective of strict roles rules out many possibilities. What if the division of roles was different and learning was based on interactions? LGBTQIA+ rights can be an unfamiliar topic for many teachers and we could collectively make sure the LGBTQIA+ students are acknowledged. This doesn’t change the fact that the main responsibility of a safer and LGBTQIA+-aware learning environment is still on the faculty, but all participants can take part in creating the LGBTQIA+-aware learning environment.


By doing so, the pressure of giving feedback would not only be left to queer students – it would rather be a shared objective for the entire learning community. What if the teachers learned something new from their students and their experiences? Through these interactions, teaching could become more respectful, polyphonic and LGBTQIA+ friendly. This change could work wonders, making education more inclusive and safer for every member of the LGBTQIA+ community.


5. Teacher training

Currently, LGBTQIA+ ignorance is very deeply constructed in the structures of education, as the topics are limited in teachers’ own education. So where should the LGBTQIA+ awareness of teachers or professors come from? Can we expect openness from society, if the educational institutions that reflect it are not on our side?


In current social debates, members of minorities have to advocate for their own human rights, which is a burden on individuals. While the minorities should be heard in the debates, the responsibility for maintaining the debate and putting it into practice should be on the larger parties that already hold power in society. The University of Helsinki has worked towards solidarity of LGBTQIA+ communities, yet this should also be reflected in teaching practices, for example in the training of faculty.


6. Improving sex education and increasing community spirit

Yle news covered schools' old perceptions and inadequate sex education in an article that identifies several reasons why the objectives of the curriculum in terms of sex education cannot presently be achieved. This is due to a lack of information, narrow perception of teaching materials, exhaustion to drive change and insufficient educational opportunities. Where can neglecting the LGBTQIA+ community in education lead to?


THL’s publication “Well-Being of Young People from Gender and Sexual Minorities - Results of the School Health Survey 2019” provides a preliminary insight into the well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community. The survey was answered by school students age 14 and over. It found that compared to other young people, queer-youth (1) were significantly less likely to feel part of the school or other community, (2) they perceived the school environment to be deficient and insecure, and (3) young people, especially those belonging to gender minorities, reported experiencing school bullying and physical threat.s The results are worrying and illustrate the feelings of belonging of sexual and gender minority youth. Sex education and the atmosphere in schools around LGBTQIA+ rights requires urgent change for the better. We need a community that welcomes everyone.


To gain better understanding of the situation in the university, Qaareva has conducted a survey of queer students’ experiences on equality and discrimination. The survey is aimed towards all students that belong to a gender- or sexuality-based minority in the University of Helsinki. The results and analysis of the survey will be published in June 2021.

 

References

Niemonen, R. (January, 2021). “Koulun rakenteet ovat jämähtäneet” – nuoret opettajat arvostelevat ikuista tyttö–poika-jakoa, myös opetussuunnitelma vaatii muutosta. Yle Uutiset. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11706262


Jokela, S.; Luopa, P.; Hyvärinen, A.; Ruuska, T.; Martelin, T.; Klemetti, R. (2020). Sukupuoli- ja seksuaalivähemmistöihin kuuluvien nuorten hyvinvointi – Kouluterveyskyselyn tuloksia 2019. Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos, 22.


Duran, A., & Jones, S. (2020). Complicating Identity Exploration: An Intersectional Grounded Theory Centering Queer Students of Color at Historically White Institutions. Journal of College Student Development, 61(3), 291. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2020.0028

 

About Qaareva

Qaareva is a new, colorful, and active LGBTQIA+ organization at the University of Helsinki! They promote equality at the university, support Queer students and organize interesting activities together. Qaareva provides resources on its platforms for both students and teachers. Their website, which will be launched in May 2021, will have a variety of articles and compiled sources of information to make the educational environment more positive, accepting and safer for LGBTQIA + students.