WHAT CAN AN INDIVIDUAL FACULTY MEMBER AND AN ACADEMIC DEPARTMENT
DO TO IMPROVE THE CAMPUS CLIMATE FOR GLBT STUDENTS

You have undoubtedly seen references to the campus climate study conducted last spring to assess the needs of GLBT students at UNL and to describe the nature of the campus climate for GLBT students.  Dr. Robert D. Brown, Carl A. Happold Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology, who has extensive experience with campus climate studies, directed the project with the assistance of three graduate students. Over 500 students, faculty, and Student Affairs staff members, as well as 80 GLBT students, completed a comprehensive survey.  A sample of the GLBT students was also interviewed. (For a copy of the Report and the Executive Summary check the web site: or contact Jan Deeds at jdeeds1@unl.edu for a hard copy.)

All 80 GLBT student survey respondents reported that anti-GLBT attitudes exist on campus to at least some extent, with nearly half indicating they exist to a "great" or "very great" extent. Three-fourths of the faculty, general students, and Student Affairs members agreed with the GLBT students that anti-GLBT attitudes exist to at least some extent and approximately a fourth of each group felt the anti-GLBT attitudes are present on campus to a "great" extent or more.

Only 6% felt they were treated unfairly by a faculty member during the past academic year, but 57% reported they felt the need to hide their sexual orientation/identity from faculty members for fear of the possibility of harassment or unequal treatment.

Two UNL GLBT students described the campus this way:

Female Undergraduate Student :  "Being a GLBT student on campus means being very anxious all of the time about how open I can be—of where I am.  I'm constantly reading between the lines and looking for people who might be supportive.  I live with a general feeling of anxiousness.  In class, for example, --not knowing if the professor will be cool if you say something GLBT related..."

Male Undergraduate Student : "The atmosphere at UNL is a generally cold and sterile acceptance of the gay community.  People on campus have adopted a sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy toward GLBT people. The environment fosters staying in the closet..."

The UNL campus climate for GLBT students has a direct impact on their learning and development. It has an impact on their recruitment, academic achievement, and retention.  But it is important to note as well that a campus climate supportive of GLBT students offers a richer learning experience for all students.

All GLBT students affirm that their overall anxiety is very real, but they give testimony to the importance of small positive gestures. They can recall when a faculty member made the right supportive remark at the right time.

Following are a few examples of "small" gestures academic departments and individual faculty members can initiate to improve the campus climate for GLBT students. We hope you will consider them.

DEPARTMENTAL DISCUSSIONS

Encourage a departmental forum on issues related to homophobia and academic freedom as they pertain to your department's courses.  Topics might include: What are examples of being responsive in a way that respects the academic freedom of students and the instructor's right to share his or her own beliefs when offensive language is used, when a student holding conservative religious beliefs says he or she is offended by the course content and discussion, or when incorrect information about sexual orientation is presented?  Are there principles or guidelines the department can develop to assist individual faculty members in responding to these classroom situations?

Professor David Moshman of UN-L has published an excellent article that could provide the starting point for such a discussion. See Moshman, D. (2002). "Homophobia and academic freedom." Journal of Lesbian Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3/4, pp. 147-161 (Available Full Text at UNL Libraries). Also in Elizabeth P. Cramer (Ed.), Addressing Homophobia and Heterosexism on College Campuses (pp. 147-161). Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press (Available at UNL Libraries).

Dr. Moshman (dmoshman1@unl.edu) will be happy to send a copy of the article to anyone who requests it and would also be happy to attend any departmental or other meeting for purposes of discussing these issues. Members of the Committee on GLBT Concerns would also be pleased to sit in on departmental discussions.

 INDIVIDUAL FACULTY MEMBERS:

1. Be proactive in creating a classroom environment respectful of all students regardless of their sexual orientation or identity. GLBT students seek a  "safe learning environment" i.e., a classroom environment where they know they can come out without facing discrimination from the instructor.

2. Examine the course text and materials to see that they don't unjustifiably ignore or marginalize topics and perspectives associated with sexual orientation and identity.

3. Include the complete UNL non-discrimination statement in your syllabus.  According to the Office for Equity, Access and Diversity, the current statement reads:  "It is the policy of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln not to discriminate based on gender, age, disability, race, color, religion, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation." Consider also including a policy statement in your syllabi regarding how harassment of a student in class, i.e., a pattern of behavior directed against a particular student with the intent of humiliating or intimidating that student, will be handled.  Make it clear that the mere expression of one's ideas is not harassment and is fully protected by academic freedom, but that personal harassment of individual students is not permitted.

4. Make explicit reference to the appropriateness of GLBT topics for discussions and for course assignments such as term papers, reports, and presentations.

GLBT students think this is important for courses in which such topics would be relevant. Citing examples of papers, projects, or reports from past semesters also helps make the point. A verbal presentation by the course instructor at the beginning of the semester reinforces whatever is written in the syllabus.

5. Include a journal or book reference in your syllabus that relates to GLBT history, culture, and concerns that may be pertinent to the content of the course.

GLBT students don't expect such references to be pertinent for every course (e.g., a mathematics course, perhaps) but do see them as relevant and important in many social science, humanities, arts, and literature courses.

6. Avoid making negative remarks or telling jokes that "put down" GLBT persons.

Though only 6% of the General Students in the campus climate study reported hearing course instructors make such remarks, a fourth of the Residence Hall Assistants and the GLBT students reported hearing such remarks from a course instructor in the past academic year.

7. If a student in class makes negative remarks or tells jokes that "put down" GLBT persons, model how this can be handled with civility and mutual respect and in a manner that enhances the learning of all students.

When this happens in class, students often attend to the instructor's response for clues as to what is or is not accepted in the classroom. These can be treated as excellent "educational moments."

In the campus climate study, over half of the GLBT students and about a fourth of the Residence Hall Assistants reported hearing students making such remarks in the presence of a course instructor.  When these incidents occurred, 29% of the GLBT students and 40% of the Residence Hall Assistants said the instructors commented on the statement.  That means that 60-70% of the time the instructors were silent.

8. If appropriate to your course content, note the existence of GLBT related programs on campus just as you might mention other lectures, forums, or events on campus.

OTHER ACTIONS YOU COULD PURSUE TO EDUCATE YOURSELF:

1. Learn about the GLBT & Ally resources available on campus. Resource information can be obtained on the LGBTQA Programs & Services website (si.unl.edu/lgbtqa/). A hard copy of a resource sheet can be obtained from the LGBTQA Resource Center by emailing ptetreault1@unl.edu or calling 472-1752.

2. Attend a program/workshop related to GLBT history, culture, and issues.

3. Invite members of the Committee for GLBT Concerns to a departmental faculty discussion about how to include GLBT history and resources in your courses. Current co-chairs are listed on the "Who We Are" page of the CGLBTC website (www.unl.edu/cglbtc/).

4. Invite the Assistant Director for GLBT & Ally Programs & Services (si.unl.edu/lgbtqa/) to provide "safe space" or Ally training for your department or classroom.

5. Invite students from the Queer Student Alliance, the GLBTA student organization, or OutSpeaking: Out on Campus Speaker's Bureau to participate in a discussion with your department's faculty and staff about improving the climate for GLBT students.

6. Attend a meeting of the Committee for GLBT Concerns, held bi-weekly at the NU Student Involvement Office. Contact the co-chairs of the committee or look at the website for dates and times. Heterosexual Allies are always welcome at these meetings.

7. Learn how to be an ally. Ally training is available from the LGBTQA Programs & Services website (si.unl.edu/lgbtqa/).

Several other excellent resources include :

Chism, N.V.N., & Pruit, A.S. (1995). "Promoting inclusiveness in college teaching." In W.A. Wright (Ed.) Teaching Improvement Practices: Successful Strategies for Higher Education (pp.325-345). Bolton, Mass.: Anker.

Bresner, H.F., & Spungin, C. I. (1995). Gay and Lesbian Students: Understanding Their Needs. Washington, D.C.: Taylor and Francis. Available at UNL Libraries.

Sanlo, R.L., (Ed.) (1998). Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender College Students. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. Available at UNL Libraries.

Sanlo, R., Rankin, S., & Schoenberg, R. (Eds.) (2002).  Our Place on Campus. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. Available at UNL Libraries.

Wall, V.A. & Evans, N.J. (2000). Toward Acceptance: Sexual Orientation Issues on Campus. Available at UNL Libraries.

Developed by Dr. Robert Brown, 2002.

Updated November 28, 2007.

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