In collaboration with Team Diversity and Inclusion at UAntwerp

Not every LGBTQI+ student* always feels at home on campus or in class. They sometimes face inappropriate jokes, exclusion, bullying, ignorance, and so on. In addition, LGBTQI+ students may also experience mental health problems (Schers & van Alphen, 2016; TNN & ECIO, 2022). Lecturers can play an important role in countering stigmatisation and creating an inclusive learning environment (Amodeo et al., 2020; Scandurra et al., 2017). In this teaching tip, we will discuss some of the options for doing just that. We have structured them into three categories: communication, learning content & safe learning environment.

* LGBTQI stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex. The plus sign represents the various other gender identities, sexual preferences and gender expressions that are not covered by this acronym.

Inclusive communication

  • Use inclusive pronouns
    When you want to refer to people in a text, don't use 'he/she' or 'him/her'. Use gender-inclusive words like 'the student', or pronouns like 'they' and 'their', for example: 'In this lesson, the student has to present their assignment.'
    Another way to make texts more gender-inclusive is to use plural forms, for example: 'In this lesson, students have to present their assignments.'
    Finally, you can also address students directly, for example: 'In this lesson, you have to present your assignment.'
  • Make sure everyone feels addressed
    When addressing a group, make sure all gender identities feel included. Instead of saying 'Hello ladies and gentlemen', for example, you can simply say 'Good morning everyone' (Harbin, 2016; van Heest, 2021).
    In emails and other written communication, 'Dear sir or madam' can easily be changed to a more gender-inclusive alternative such as 'Dear student(s)' (TNN & ECIO, 2022). You can also use the first name of the person you're emailing. This way, you can avoid mentioning the wrong gender-specific words.
  • Use gender and sexual orientation as adjectives
    When talking about people's gender or sexual orientation, use it as an adjective rather than a noun. For example, say 'transgender persons' or 'gay men' instead of 'transgenders' and 'gays'. This way, a person's identity is not reduced to a particular aspect of it (Guastella et al., 2022).

Inclusive learning content

  • Integrate role models into your lessons
    Students should be able to recognise themselves in the learning content. This helps them feel like they belong in the study programme. This can be done, among other things, by introducing role models. For example, you can refer to individuals from the LGBTQI+ community who have made significant contributions to your field of study (van Heest, 2021).
    Another way to integrate role models into your lessons is to occasionally invite a guest lecturer from the LGBTQI+ community. These guest lectures can, but don't have to touch upon themes of sexual and gender diversity; they can simply be about the guest lecturer's field of expertise (TNN & ECIO, 2022). It's important for the guest lecture to be part of the compulsory learning content, so that the contribution of the visiting lecturer is valorised.
  • Use diverse examples
    If you use cases or examples in class, make sure not to refer exclusively to cisgender (i.e. people whose gender identity matches their sex as assigned at birth) and heterosexual people. Instead, include people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. Use gender-diverse and sexually diverse examples, cases, and images. Beware of stereotypes, such as a gay man who has HIV.
    Try to feature various gender identities and sexual orientations in cases or examples casually, without them being the subject of the case itself (Guastella et al., 2022; van Heest, 2021). For example, in a divorce law course, you can discuss a case in which the couple just so happens to consist of two women, or one of the partners is a non-binary person.
  • Never consider any one person to be representative of an entire community
    When using resources from authors from the LGBTQI+ community, or when inviting a guest lecturer from the LGBTQI+ community, be aware that they don't speak for the entire community. An LGBTQI+ student shouldn't be seen as a representative of all LGBTQI+ students. Every person has their own experiences, opinions and backgrounds. For example, don't expect a bisexual student to be able to speak on behalf of all bisexual people (Harbin, 2016).

A safe learning environment

  • Give students the opportunity to indicate their pronouns
    By asking for students' pronouns, you create openness to talk about gender diversity. For example, non-binary students may use 'they/them', but there are several other alternatives, like 'ze/hir' or 'xe/xem'. Everyone gets to decide for themselves which pronouns they feel comfortable with (TNN & ECIO, 2022).
    In small student groups, you could have students introduce themselves on the first day and give them the option to mention their pronouns, if they wish to do so. In large groups, you can ask students to include their pronouns in their email signatures, or have them fill in a short introductory questionnaire where they can also mention their pronouns.
    If you ask for pronouns, ask all students so that no one feels singled out (Harbin, 2016). It's also important not to insist on the matter. Some people don't like to talk about their pronouns at all. They may still be discovering their identity, or simply prefer not to have you use any pronouns for them.
    If you're not sure what a student's pronouns are, don't make assumptions and avoid using any gender-specific words. You can always use the student's name (Harbin, 2016).
  • Share your own pronouns
    Demonstrate the importance of pronouns by sharing your own pronouns when introducing yourself to your student group and/or by adding your pronouns to your email signature. Of course, you should only do this if you feel comfortable with it. This way, you indicate that it's important not to guess at people's pronouns or automatically assume someone is a 'he' or a 'she' (Harbin, 2016). It shows that you are mindful of sexual and gender diversity, which can help students to be open and talk about their gender identity (Guastella et al., 2022).
  • Only share students' gender identity if you have their consent
    If a student discloses their gender identity to you alone, you should only share it with others if you have their consent. After all, some students don't feel equally comfortable with certain pronouns in all situations. For example, a non-binary student might be very open about their gender identity in a family setting, but might not want their fellow students to know that they are non-binary.
  • Only mention sexuality or gender when relevant
    Mentioning someone's sexuality or gender is not always necessary. Ask yourself whether it's relevant and useful to mention these aspects when referring to a particular student. When in doubt, it's always best to discuss this with the student (TNN & ECIO, 2022).
    Example: A lecturer wants to clarify the difference between gender and sex and asks a transgender student to explain this difference, pointing out to the class that this student is a trans person. Despite the lecturer's good intentions, this can be very stigmatising for the student. A better way is to address the group and give all students the opportunity to answer the question.
  • Apologise and correct yourself when you make a mistake
    Gender-inclusive teaching evolves over time. Try to keep up with this evolution as best you can. But even then, you might find yourself using the wrong pronoun or making a statement that is sensitive to some people. Try not to make the same mistake again and apologise for your statement. Show that you're willing to learn about gender-inclusive language (Harbin, 2016).

Want to know more?

ECHO Teaching Tips

Inclusive communication

For UAntwerp staff

Informative webpages

Relevant literature