Kerry Horrell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, School of Humanities, Religion, and Social Sciences
At the beginning of each new year, I pick a word that represents something I would like to focus on for the upcoming year. For 2021, I chose the word cultivate, defined as “trying to acquire or develop.” I am learning to love this word for its effortfulness, because this year, rather than attempt to manifest some new trait out of thin air, I wanted to recognize that growth and change often require intentionality, time, and the hard work of trying, over and over again.
With that in mind, I want to consider how this posture of practice might be relevant to our goals as a university community. How are we putting in the work to move us toward our vision and values, such as academic excellence, social justice, and holistic wellness? How are we moving beyond statements and ideas to actually creating a culture that reflects what we believe? One area that I am particularly interested in is cultivating an environment of inclusion. Specifically, I believe it is critical that we continue to foster inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ people in our community in order to meet our goals as a university. Let me explain why.
Over a decade ago, Campus Pride – an organization aimed at creating safer and friendlier college campuses for LGBTQ+ students – released a comprehensive report on the “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People.” This report was the first of its kind, and it outlined that LGBTQ+ students tend to experience their college campuses as cold, unwelcoming, and even dangerous places (Rankin et al., 2010). This lived experience of the college community – often referred to as campus climate – has become an important focus of recent research, as it is associated with various outcomes for students. Among LGBTQ+ students, negative perceptions of campus climate have been found to be related to increased anxiety and depression, lowered academic success, and a high probability of leaving the university (Amodeo et al., 2020; Garvey et al., 2018).
Moreover, in her paper on “Applying the Seven Learning Principles to Creating LGBT-Inclusive Classrooms,” Dr. Michele DiPietro remarks that students’ prior knowledge impacts their learning experiences. Specifically, she says, “LGBT students may come to college with a sense of alienation stemming from having grown up in educational and social systems that devalue them” (DiPietro, 2012, para. 3) Given that education and religion are two arenas where LGBTQ+ people have historically been discriminated against, this population is likely to enter Christian academia with uneasiness and skepticism. Therefore, not harassing is not enough. It is crucial that we – as the FPU community – consider how we can actively maintain a campus climate that is explicitly warm, welcoming, and safe for LGBTQ+ students and staff, as this directly impacts the ability for us to meet our goals of academic success, social justice, and holistic wellness.
Cultivating a culture means that we must all work together. So, the question that might be on your mind is: how do we keep up this sort of climate on our campus? Here are a few ideas and tips for practicing inclusion.
1. Do no harm. Research has consistently shown that homophobia and transphobia, including microaggressions, are harmful. These could include misgendering people, being heteronormative, using disparaging language (e.g., “That’s gay” or “No homo.”), or denial of bodily privacy.
2. Be aware. It is important to recognize that sexual and gender identity is multifaceted and something to learn about people, as they are ready to share. Being aware can include asking people – and this means all people – their preferred pronouns, taking responsibility to learn more about queer issues, and considering the diverse and intersectional experiences of those who are LGBTQ+.
3. Be active. Make your ally status known to those around you. This can be done by sharing queer-positive symbols, adopting inclusive language (e.g., as a recent Texas resident, I am fond of “y’all”), and calling out discrimination, bigotry, and microaggressions when you hear them.
FPU has a long history of valuing and cultivating inclusion. Yet, this work is never complete, and I encourage us all to continue this legacy by practicing, over and over again, our posture toward inclusivity and love.
Rankin, S., Weber, G., Blumenfeld, W., & Frazer, S. (2010) State of Higher Education for LGBT. Campus Pride. https://www.campuspride.org/wp-content/uploads/campuspride2010lgbtreportssummary.pdf
Amodeo, A. L., Esposito, C., Esposito, C., & Bacchini, D. (2020). Sexual minority status, anxiety–depression, and academic outcomes: The role of campus climate perceptions among Italian higher education students. Behavioral Sciences, 10(12), 179.
Garvey, J. C., Squire, D. D., Stachler, B., & Rankin, S. (2018). The impact of campus climate on queer-spectrum student academic success. Journal of LBGT Youth, 15(2), 89-105.
DiPietro, M. (2012) Applying the Seven Learning Principles to Creating LGBT-Inclusive Classrooms. Diversity and Democracy, 15(1). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/applying-seven-learning-principles-creating-lgbt-inclusive