Student Voice

Queer-friendly classrooms: Queer thought is not alternative thought

Oftentimes, queer thought or theory -when included in the curriculum- is collapsed into a week or two of a unit. Calls to ‘queer’ the curriculum come in partnership with calls to ‘decolonize’ it; a practice being harnessed by students and teachers alike. When we say queer and decolonise the curriculum, we mean much more than simply adding Black or queer texts to essential reading lists, but indeed unpacking the institution of language, dynamics and policy that underpin higher education (SOAS, 2018). We highly recommend researching and implementing decolonial classroom practice along side queer-friendly classroom practise, as not only do they intermesh through theories of colonial gender constructs, but it will enable you to create a better space for Black people and people of colour within your classroom. However, focusing on queering the curriculum, we have some measures we suggest are implemented into your teaching to create a better environment for queer students, but also to aid in better understandings of gender and the impacts of it.

We understand this manifesto is broad in scope towards all higher education teachers, so know that some of the measures we are about to suggest will be more difficult to infuse into class for some. This includes teachers of STEM fields, as they are less likely than humanities subjects to involve cultural case studies or literature. We ask you to approach this section with an open mind and take from it what you can, and research what you cannot find here.

Please feel free to use and share this infographic to use as a checklist for ‘queering’ your curriculum.

THE FRAMING OF QUEER CONTENT

As we briefly touched upon, queer content is often subjegated to a specialised practise or few weeks of a course, to offer some ‘alternative’ views on a subject. Whilst some universities such as the UoB have taken queer and diversity learning into more immediate action, implementing a pilot ‘interactive equality and diversity module’ for all students to complete before beginning studies, interventions such as this are not common (UoB, 2017: 12). Indeed, we argue that not only should practises such as UoB’s be implemented, but there should be further infiltration into the curriculum.

As well as keeping to specialised practices and weeks of focus on typical topics, we suggest that queer perspectives are ‘well represented within course content,’ and that queer ‘history and experiences are represented in teaching’ (Bachman and Gooch, 2018: 11). This can be done through offering one of the essential readings most weeks to minority experiences, or tackling a problem from a queer perspective. For example, if you are planning talking about the repercussions of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, examine the impact on trans* communities (Dhakal and Wong, 2017).

Similarly, as with pronouns being promoted for every student to use, regardless of whether they identify as queer, when introducing studies to the class, point to the identity of the people that they are speaking about. For example, in a study on Egyptian couples seeking marriage counselling, point to the fact that this study is about cisgender, heterosexual (passing) couples (Attia, 2013). By labelling studies of non-queer people to the same degree as queer people, it creates a notion of queer experiences not being opposing ways of life, but simply different branches of it.

Try to integrate an intersectional approach to this. By intersectional we mean involving the stories of queer people of different races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is not enough to only include stories of white or upper class queer people, as their experiences will never be able to speak for everyone. Instead of homogenising queer stories, divert the narrative, offer new insight into communities outside the global North, counter colonisation, and introduce students (both queer and non-queer) to the brepths of gender and expression humanity can offer.

We strongly recommend researching racial minority feminist and queer scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989, 1991, 2016). Or bell hooks, whose work includes Teaching to Transgress: education as the Practice of Freedom’ (1994), where she writes that teaching students to ‘transgress’ against racial, class and sexual boundaries is the teachers most important goal. Or Alok Vaid-Menon, a nonbinary writer and artist whose book Beyond the Gender Binary (2020) has received critical aclaim, and is a perfect starter for queer reading. Examine your own internal bias when thinking about the content you’re including, how you’re including it, the ways in which you describe and analyse it, and remain reflexive.

Issy Stephens (they/ she)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.