Gay, lesbian, and bisexual students often first
acknowledge their sexual orientation and explore their
identities in college. Faculty can play an active role in
creating a welcoming and inclusive learning environment
for these students.
Creating a Positive Learning
Environment for Gay, Lesbian,
and Bisexual Students
Nancy J. Evans
“What does sexual orientation have to do with learning in the classroom?” “Won’t acknowledging issues related to sexual orientation just cause unnecessary controversy in the classroom?” “My field is chemistry; what does that have to do with sexual orientation?”
Such questions are very common when faculty are asked to consider the learning needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. I address these topics in this chapter, first by listening to the voices of students talking about their experiences with supportive faculty. Then I present a model of how individuals develop a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity. I next examine how experiences in the classroom affect this process. I conclude by returning to the questions I initially posed.
How do faculty make a difference in the lives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students? In 1998, Iowa State University established the Safe Zone program to increase visible support for gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals on campus. Faculty and staff who wished to indicate they were supportive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals requested and displayed a Safe Zone sticker on their office doors. This sticker consisted of the words Safe Zone printed below a pink triangle (a symbol commonly associated with the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities). Following are statements made by two students concerning what it meant to them to see Safe Zone stickers on the doors of their faculty (Evans, 1998):