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May 26, 2016

Faculty workshop targets classroom inclusivity

Faculty who wish to create an inclusive classroom must learn to demonstrate appropriate sensibilities to the issues of sexuality and gender identity, and include everyone in the classroom dialogue. —Susan Marine

Faculty who wish to create an inclusive
classroom must learn to demonstrate appropriate
sensibilities to the issues of sexuality and gender identity, and include everyone in the
classroom dialogue.
—Susan Marine

Susan Marine of Merrimack College is bringing her inclusive classroom workshop to Pitt once again to help faculty from all disciplines with, she says, “the kind of language we use, the kind of context we explore in our classrooms, and how we respond to situations that come up in the classroom around gender and sexual identity.”

Marine, faculty member and director of the higher education graduate program in Merrimack’s School of Education and Social Policy, has 17 years’ experience teaching and conducting research on transgender politics, women’s colleges and student affairs practice. The workshop, called “Constructing a Truly Open Learning Environment for LGBTQIA Students,” takes place June 7 and 8 in the University Club. It covers how to make classrooms “truly inclusive,” with a focus on “classroom practices, curricular integration and tools for responding effectively to bias.” Marine says Pitt is the only university that has hosted the entire two-day event.

“Most faculty, myself included, we work hard” to be inclusive, Marine says. However, she adds, “when it comes to learning about issues of sexual identity … it’s not something most of us think about with much regularity.”

Students today are more aware of who they are, she says, and “are getting very comfortable around claiming lots of gender identities,” declaring themselves not only lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) but Q (queer), A (asexual) or I (intersex, those born without a specifically binary sex designation). And they want to see their experiences reflected everywhere, she says.
More than simply learning to use certain language appropriately, Marine explains, faculty who wish to create an i
nclusive classroom must learn to demonstrate appropriate sensibilities to the issues of sexuality and gender identity, and include everyone in the classroom dialogue.

In her workshop, Marine begins by talking with the group about their own experiences and whether they are familiar with the terminology and concepts of gender and sexual identity. Faculty members often discover gaps between the experiences of younger and older individuals, she reports, which evolves into a helpful discussion of inclusion today.

Marine covers interactive lessons on how to signal inclusion on syllabi and in the way classrooms are set up, as well as what sorts of information faculty should ask students about their identities.

“I’ll be doing an exercise with the group where we ‘walk through’ a syllabus together and identify all the junctures at which inclusion could be signified on the actual document, then will work together to craft that language,” she says. “I’ll also lead the group in formulating an approach (based on what I use in every class) to asking students to name their gender identities and making space for all to respond authentically.”

She also shows how to diversify course content to be more inclusive and to engage with issues of gender and sexuality, no matter the subject, from the humanities to the hard sciences. Here, she’ll provide two “before and after” syllabi that show how LGBTQ-related content may be built into a syllabus, and demonstrate the steps to identifying and incorporating these materials into courses. “I’ll ask them in small groups to vet two sources for a course we’re designing together” as an example, Marine says, “and think about which would be a better fit for the course.

Participants also will learn how to incorporate issues of gender and sexuality into classroom activities, consciously incorporating diverse identities into case studies and group work. “I’ll provide several examples of class activities and case studies that incorporate LGBTQ-related identities in the subjects of the exercises,” she says. “One very basic example is the use of two women’s names (and pronouns) for a married couple, but I will also show how use of gender neutral pronouns and recognition of some of the rights-based challenges of LGBTQ people signal important moments of visibility also.”

The second day of the workshop applies these concepts and demonstrates how to handle resistance to the idea of inclusion in the classroom.
“Some students actually feel comfortable saying homophobic and transphobic things,” she says. “Inevitably somebody will say something — there will be disputes, dismissiveness and disparagement,” particularly concerning the validity of some students’ identities. In the workshop she will talk about possible responses.

Of course, she allows, sometimes even well-meaning people have a hard time relating to certain identities of others: “It is hard for the vast majority of us to relate to asexuality. It is hard for some people to relate to transgenderism. I think that’s totally human.

“We’ve got to keep working on it. These students are at extreme risk,” she adds, citing high instances in the trans population of everything from depression to suicide. “These are life and death matters for people. Let’s have an authentic learning space … where we can commit to getting that learning and getting that knowledge.”

Faculty can register for the workshop at

The workshop is part of the Provost’s Diversity Institute for Faculty Development, which is in its second year. Other institute sessions this spring were a two-day workshop on intergroup dialogue, an interactive theatre performance and workshop, screening of the film “What’s Race Got to Do With it?” and a series of four sessions on “Understanding our Students.”

—Marty Levine 

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