On November 12, the Teaching and Learning Center hosted a GLBTQ panel. Four Clark students discussed what instructors do and don’t do to help them feel welcome and safe in the classroom.
I’ve been concerned with GLBTQ student issues for nearly a decade and make an effort to do what I can to create a safe learning environment for these groups. So I was surprised that I learned so much that afternoon. But what surprised me more was that I was one of only a handful of faculty members who attended.
I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. One of the panelists said he had never felt marginalized at Clark until he witnessed the meager attendance at the panel. The irony was at best irritating given all of the heated discussion following the current controversy concerning the distribution of racist propaganda on campus. A lot of talk ensued but when it was time to listen to GLBTQ students, no one showed up.
So what did I learn? I learned that we as instructors have a lot more impact through our communication than I thought we did when it comes to creating a safe environment in the classroom. One of the panelists said that he felt safer in the classroom when instructors spent significant time discussing the classroom conduct and respect policies the first day of class. He said it was a red flag when instructors just glossed over this topic. Silence is powerful. As one of the panelists put it, when an instructor fails to deal with even the slightest derogation in class, the “silence is equated with shame for the student.”