• Evidence indicates that LGBTIQ+ people experience widespread social inequity. This results in an increased incidence of health issues.
  • LGBTIQ+ students participate in higher education at higher rates.
  • Failure to accommodate the needs of these students in curriculum and teaching impacts upon mental health, success and retention.
  • Recognising the needs of LGBTIQ+ people in curriculum design and teaching practices can improve wellbeing, success and student retention.

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Challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ students Diversity and inclusion in education Curriculum design Teaching practices

Challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ students

Evidence consistently indicates that people who identify as LGBTIQ+ report higher incidence of mental health issues, suicidality, and psychological distress. These health outcomes are directly related to experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse. Students who identify as LGBTIQ+ also have higher risks to mental health as higher education students. As many are coming to terms with gender and sexual identities at the age of engagement in higher education, they can have an additional level of vulnerability in terms of mental health.

Wellbeing is a critical element of learning. As students within the LGBTIQ+ population are at an increased risk of mental health issues, it follows that they have specific challenges around learning and success in a higher education environment. Some of these challenges are a product of engaging in a learning experience which silences or misrecognises them. Within a university environment, silence in relation to LGBTIQ+ issues and perspectives within curriculum can result in students feeling like they do not belong. Such feelings can contribute to poor mental health, poor academic performance, and influence attrition.

The significance of this risk is magnified by evidence indicating disproportionately higher participation in higher education by students within the LGBTIQ+ group. Student disengagement within this space therefore translates to disproportionately high attrition risks. Measures to accommodate the needs of students in this group can mitigate risks to their wellbeing, success and retention. They can also translate into a more diverse learning culture for all students, enhance graduate outcomes and contribute to the common good. These initiatives align to the ACU Mission in that they support individual flourishing and community enrichment.

Benefits of diversity and inclusion in education

In line with the values of Catholic Social Teaching, facilitation of social mobility for students assists them to flourish as individuals and contribute to the common good. This transformative capacity is reflected in the way ACU values diversity and welcomes students from all walks of life to grow through learning.

students sitting on the green law in front of ACU Canberra campus

ACU recognises a number of marginalised groups in endeavors to reform curriculum. Such reform programs improve engagement with these groups through recognizing their values and differences, thereby improving feelings of inclusion. ACU’s Strategic Plan aims to improve “access and outcomes of equity groups”. Inclusion of LGBTIQ+ People and perspectives can promote feelings of inclusion for LGBTIQ+ identifying students and also enrich the learning experience for non-LGBTIQ+ students through introducing diverse perspectives.

Beyond risks to LGBTIQ+ students directly, failure to include LGBTIQ+ perspectives in the learning environment poses risks to all students. Such risks include lack of preparation for challenges students may face in the community and workplace when interacting with LGBTIQ+ people. The impacts to the community are broad and include failure to understand and accommodate the unique needs of individuals within the community which ACU is deeply connected to.

Models of teaching and curriculum which celebrate LGBTIQ+ People and Perspectives assist individuals to flourish, maintain dignity and connect to the community to promote the common good. Adoption of these models can assist all of our students to truly flourish and contribute within and beyond their lifecycle of a student, and into life as a graduate.

Curriculum design to promote inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people and perspectives

Social inclusion is central to mental wellbeing. Promotion of inclusion and wellbeing for LGBTIQ+ students is core to the curriculum both in terms of what and how it is taught. As such, curriculum design needs to address LGBTIQ+ themes where appropriate. Where deliberate action is undertaken to embed relevant content at a number of levels of curriculum design, the needs of students are more reliably met. These design measures should be at the governance and implementation levels.

Where measures to accommodate diversity are left to individual academic staff, there is a natural tendency for individuals to prioritise identity attributes based on lived experience. It is reasonable to assume that the majority of teachers reflect demographic trends and therefore identify as heterosexual. As such, the majority of the teaching is delivered through a heteronormative lens. Such practices commonly silence LGBTIQ+ perspectives. Robust and overt, institution and sector wide approaches to inclusion of LGBTIQ+ content are required to promote social inclusion, good mental health and retention of LGBTIQ+ students.

Teaching practices which promote inclusion of LGBTIQ+ People and Perspectives

Active learning approaches which put students at the centre of their learning align to the principles of inclusion which are known to promote wellbeing and are protective of mental health. These approaches align to aspects of adult learning theory which recognise the value of the life experience of the student and empower them by putting them in a position where they feel valued. These active approaches can also connect students with others and promote social inclusion.

As such, promoting mental health and student retention can be as simple as applying sound andragogy within a safe learning environment. Such an environment needs to be supportive of diversity and inclusivity. Some simple measures such as modelling mutual respect, promoting inclusive language and inviting students to use preferred pronouns can promote safety for LGBTIQ+ students in the learning environment.

Bonvicini, K. A. (2017). LGBT healthcare disparities: What progress have we made? Patient Education and Counseling, 100(12), 2357-2361. doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2017.06.003

Baik, C., Larcombe, W., Brooker, A., Wyn, J., Allen, L., Brett, M., Field, R., & James, R. (2017). Enhancing student mental wellbeing: a handbook for academic educators. Melbourne, Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

Leonard, W., Pitts, M., Mitchell, A, Lyons, A. Smith, A., Patel, S., Couch, M., & Barrett, A. (2012). Private Lives 2: The Second National Survey of the Health and Well-Being of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Australians. Melbourne, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health, and Society, La Trobe University. Retrieved from https://www.acon.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/PrivateLives2-report-2012.pdf
Page last updated on 17/01/2022

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