Allies in the classroom: Professors take action to create LGBTQ-inclusive environment

Stephanie Adeline

As a professor who identifies as queer, Beth Bukoski makes sure to intervene when she feels heterosexist discourse is present in her classrooms. However, she is just one of more than 50 professors and lecturers who have pledged to do the same.

“I’m far from perfect in any way,” Bukoski, a clinical assistant professor of educational leadership and policy, said. “But to know that I am becoming someone that queer students can turn to … I think is really great.”

For just over three years, the Gender and Sexuality Center has been training faculty, staff, students and administrators on advocating for LGBTQ justice. Each participant signs an allyship pledge after the program and has their name included in a list on the Allies in Action website.

With registration coming up, this list can be useful for students in determining which professors have participated in ally training and have pledged to support LGBTQ students, said GSC director Liz Elsen. 

“(Students are) way more likely to go into (a professor’s) office if they have the ally card on their office,” Elsen said. “If you go to someone’s office and they, whether it’s intentional or not, … misgender the student, or they make assumptions about the students’ identity, that can be really harmful.”

In February, GSC posted a board in the Student Activity Center where students could write names of professors who are feminist and LGBTQ-friendly. The list eventually included 27 professors, including Bukoski.

While it is not an official list, Elsen said it is important to have informal conversations like these where students can share experiences and recommend professors who are supportive of LGBTQ students.

Sociology freshman Bobby Scherer, who is gay, said he has recommended a few of his professors to his friends because of how inclusive they were. Scherer said it is helpful to know which professors are supportive of LGBTQ students when registering for classes.

“It’s always better, and you feel more secure when you’re prepared going into a class, and you know that this professor is good,” Scherer said. “It’s so much better than saying. ‘Well, hope he’s not homophobic. What can I do?’”

Scherer said professors can show their support for queer students through small gestures, such as allowing students to dress according to their preferred gender.

“It’s just important to practice nonjudgment in any sense,” Scherer said. “Don’t worry about what a student’s wearing, (such as) if they’re a male and they’re wearing a more feminine clothing, or vice versa. If a student tells you what their preferred pronouns are, make a note of it and make sure to actually use them.”

Bukoski said she finds it important to let her students and colleagues know she identifies as queer. One of the ways she does this is by having her ally tag on her office door.

“It’s one thing for students to get to know you and to then eventually find out that you identify as queer … but it’s another thing for you to sort of have that badge on your door,” Bukoski said. “It says, ‘This is a space where we recognize all of those various identities and we honor them. We treat them with dignity.’”