Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont., have launched a pilot study and pilot project in working proactively to promote inclusiveness in classrooms.
Called Queer in the Classroom, the initiative aims to examine the benefits of “a proactive, inclusive approach within the education system for those who are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ student community.”
“The ultimate goal is to create a professional development tool that will allow teachers and educators to strengthen their understanding of how they can support these students that we’ve seen have a disproportional rate of mental health struggles,” said Iylah Neves, Lawson research assistant through the Mental Health INcubator for Disruptive Solutions (MINDS) at Western University.
Neves said that there’s a “long history in Canada of working on this issue.”
“Back in 2011, there was a national climate survey done by Eagle called Every Class In Every School, and it found that 64 per cent of students that belong to queer and trans communities felt unsafe in their school. In 2021, this climate survey was conducted and it found that that number had decreased to 62 per cent, which is only a 2 per cent drop over a decade.
“It’s clear that whatever is being done, it’s not showing a significant impact on the perceived feelings that our queer and trans youth have inside of our school system,” Neves added.
According to researchers, “youth in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are 14 times more likely to die by suicide.”
Dr. Arlene MacDougall, Lawson Scientist, director of MINDS and Psychiatrist at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, said in a statement that a focus should be “on this population who are also experiencing a higher degree of isolation, stigma and substance use.”
The foundation for the pilot project came from a “scoping review of existing research on this topic” conducted by the MINDS research team.
“This project is about connecting with school boards and teachers to help develop the knowledge and skills to create spaces that go beyond tolerating differences,” MacDougall said. “The focus is to create an environment that is more affirming, that is more responsive and more proactive rather than reactive.”
The research team is working with a couple of school boards within Ontario in the hopes of expanding the program.
However, the Queer in the Classroom project is currently being rolled out on a ‘by-request’ basis.
“We’re striving to have these kids feel like they’re not just allowed to exist but being embraced in their existence,” Neves added.
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