UI faculty help train teachers to handle LGBTQ issues

The UI’s Chief Diversity Office and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Department help train School District teachers on LGBTQ issues.


Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017.

Becca Turnis, News Reporter

In a move toward more inclusiveness, teachers from across the Iowa City School District join in training sessions facilitated by the UI to help make local schools more open.

The UI Chief Diversity Office and faculty from the Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Department run the training sessions.

Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Department head Leslie Schwalm said the project stems from research conducted by Sarah Bruch, an assistant professor in the Sociology Department.

“We are responding directly to Sarah Bruch’s report on the challenges LGBTQ students feel in Iowa City schools,” Schwalm said. “The topics we’ll cover will include key concepts [such as] why having an LGBTQ-inclusive classroom matters, coming out, recognizing microaggressions, the importance of language, and the importance of infusing LGBTQ materials into the curriculum.”

Bruch’s report identified five key recommendations, one of which was increasing the knowledge, skills, and capacity of educators in the district. The training provided by the faculty is only one of a number of sessions that the district is going to engage in as part of the Teaching and Learning Conference.

Travis Henderson, a teacher and gender-sexuality alliance adviser at West High, said around 30 teachers will be participating in “safe-zone” training led by the UI Chief Diversity Office. He said many teachers at West post safe-zone signs on their classroom doors despite not having training, and this has led to the safe-zone signs losing meaning for students.

“It’s interesting because students will see those safe-zone signs at the doors, and then they’ll enter a classroom,” Henderson said. “I don’t think it’s ever malicious, but teachers might use a wrong term to describe a group, or they might have students get into boy and girl groups, and then it becomes difficult. I don’t think it comes from a negative place for teachers, I think it comes from a place of not understanding the issues facing the community.”

RELATED: Report: ICCSD lags on inclusion of LGBTQ students

Henderson was a leader in initiating the partnership with the UI Chief Diversity Office. He said he contacted the office because it conducts safe-zone training around the UI community and asked if staff members would be willing to partner with the district to bring safe-zone training to the School District. He connected with Bria Marcelo, the director of UI diversity resources.

Marcelo will lead the training. She said the LGBTQ Safe Zone Project is based on campus-wide collaboration to increase awareness about the community, and the training for local schools will be same as that provided to UI faculty.

Henderson said he hopes that the training leads to West’s safe-zone signs regaining their meaning. In the long term, he said, he hopes that teachers become more confident in their knowledge of LGBTQ issues and incorporate them in the curriculum.

Laura Cottrell, the School District director of diversity and cultural responsiveness, said the training is essential for staff to properly support the district’s LGBTQ population. She knows the staff want to do right by the students, but they don’t have the proper background knowledge and tools.

“We’re super excited and grateful to the university for how much it is invested in the School District and how much it has helped us,” Cottrell said.