Creating Safer Schools for LGBTQ+ Youth: Webinar Recap

Kognito’s Darren Jones, Manager of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships had the unique opportunity to engage in a panel discussion led by Alison Griffin and Hillary Knudson from Whiteboard Advisors along with featured guests Colorado state Governor Jared Polis and Levi Erickson from the Denver Public Schools in which they discussed strategies for creating safer schools.

Keep reading for some highlights from the discussion, or watch the full webinar here.

We must listen to students

Everyone on the panel agreed about the importance of giving students the space to have their voices be heard, and that listening is crucial. Only students can shed light on their lived experience, and identify areas that need improvement.

Data matters

Analyze the student experience. In K-12, this means collecting data from marginalized groups. In the college setting, this means performing equity audits of the entire student experience — from recruitment to post-grad success.

Take action and implement policies that support LGBTQ+ students

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to creating a safe, supportive learning environment. For this reason it’s very important to listen to students and follow their lead. Some actions and policies offered up by our expert panel include:

  • Collecting data on LGBTQ+ students to understand what’s happening
  • Adopting the use of pronoun sharing (adding pronouns to signatures and introducing pronouns in meetings and in classrooms)
  • Allowing students to self-identify gender and change their preferred name
  • Using Gender Support Plans
  • Implementing an all gender restroom mandate
  • Upskilling faculty and staff through professional development

Faculty and staff play a vital role in creating a safe environment

When a student turns to faculty and staff to discuss their identity or issues they may have connecting to the university environment, how can faculty and staff use those moments to ensure that the student feels seen, heard, and a valued part of that community?

Kognito’s Cultivating Inclusive Communities product is an immersive, online experience that helps faculty and staff gain knowledge, skills, and self-confidence to engage across differences. This  30-minute simulation-driven program moves beyond definitions to offer users a safe environment to practice effective communication skills that create safe spaces, allowing for courageous conversations that help develop an inclusive community. Learn more about the simulation.

There needs to be a greater focus on intersectionality

How people experience the world is impacted by secondary or tertiary identities. People are diverse, and cannot be siloed into just one category. Institutions should be looking at intersectionality and specifically, how they can support LGBTQ+ students of color.

Schools are shifting from student-focused to student-ready

Historically, students who don’t complete their programs have been blamed for not being “college-ready.” But recently, there’s been demand from the public to make a paradigm shift and hold higher education institutions more accountable for the number of students who don’t graduate — which are disproportionately less economically privileged and more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority. Becoming more “student-ready” requires upskilling faculty and staff.

Learn more about this shift in our blog post, “Becoming a Student-Ready College By Supporting Student Wellness.”

Policy changes are important, but true change requires a culture shift

Policies can influence culture, but it takes time, questioning, discomfort, and a growth mindset for meaningful change to occur.

“Until we disrupt the heteronormative and cis-normative bias, we’re not really addressing that ground level. And that’s really deep work,” said Levi Erickson, Denver Public Schools.

“Every day I’m reminded that there’s still many battles fought when it comes to LGBTQ rights, especially for young people, reliant on their parents. There’s a gap between legal and lived equality for LGBTQ youth. And it’s crucial that we continue our work with the holistic approach that empowers and improves the lives of members of every marginalized group,” said Jared Polis, 43rd Governor of Colorado.

Want more? Watch the full webinar presentation on YouTube. If you’d like to learn more about how Kognito’s solutions can support your efforts to create a safer learning environment, we invite you to request a demo today.

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