Content warning: Mention of suicide
How can we foster an inclusive, supportive STEM classroom environment for LGBTQIA+ students? Here we explore the transformative power of caring teachers and how they can support this population of students.
LGBTQIA+ students were 8% less likely to be retained in STEM compared to switching to a non-STEM program, according to a national longitudinal survey data set from the Higher Education Research Institute. How can we make sure they see themselves in STEM?
The Trevor Project did an incredibly comprehensive 2023 survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, which included the relationships between teachers and students as well as how the quality of those relationships impacts students’ mental health. The survey asked 28,524 LGBTQ+ middle school, high school, and college students questions. Starting with their mental health in school settings is a great start.
The survey found that “LGBTQ young people who had access to affirming homes, schools, community events, and online spaces reported lower rates of attempting suicide compared to those who did not.”
So, how can educators provide affirming spaces in school for LGBTQIA+ students? Here are four ways.
Educators can actively incorporate LGBTQIA+ contributions, experiences, and role models into STEM curriculum materials. By highlighting the achievements of LGBTQIA+ scientists, engineers, and innovators, educators can help students see themselves reflected in the subject matter and inspire them to pursue STEM fields.
Another survey found that LGBT high school seniors whose STEM curriculum included positive LGBT content were twice as likely to choose a college major in those fields.
Educators must establish an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment where LGBTQIA+ students feel safe to express themselves. This can be achieved by promoting respectful dialogue, challenging stereotypes, and addressing discrimination or prejudice. Educators should also consider displaying inclusive posters, using gender-neutral language, and ensuring that LGBTQIA+ students' chosen names and pronouns are respected.
Connecting LGBTQIA+ students with supportive mentors and role models in the STEM community can be immensely beneficial. Educators can invite guest speakers from diverse backgrounds who can share their experiences and provide guidance. Additionally, educators can facilitate mentorship programs where LGBTQIA+ students can receive advice and support from professionals in their desired STEM fields.
Educators should ensure that LGBTQIA+ students have access to resources within and outside the classroom that specifically cater to their needs. Access may include LGBTQIA+-friendly organizations, support groups, or online communities. By providing these resources, educators can help students navigate challenges, build a sense of belonging, and access information relevant to their STEM interests.
Here are some great organizations:
oSTEM: Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) is a professional association for LGBTQIA+ individuals in STEM that empowers LGBTQIA+ people to succeed personally, academically, and professionally.
Pride in STEM: Pride in STEM is run by LGBTQIA+ scientists and engineers who want to show that STEM is for everyone and challenge the general public’s, as well as the science community’s, perception of what a scientist should be like.
500 Queer Scientists: As a visibility campaign, 500 Queer Scientists seeks to ensure that the next generation of scientists has LGBTQIA+ role models and creates opportunities for community connections.
Fostering an inclusive and supportive STEM classroom environment for LGBTQIA+ students is crucial. These efforts will help LGBTQIA+ students see themselves in STEM, promoting their success and addressing underrepresentation.