Making Space in the Classroom, Online, Everywhere

A few years ago, I made a move to try and make space in my classroom for more of the gender spectrum. I want students to feel safe in my classroom so that they can get the most out of my classes. I want them to be comfortable so they feel they can share what they’ve learned, answer questions, ask questions. When we do practical work, I want them to feel like they can get something wrong and try again. So, after reading a bunch online, the first day of the semester when I had students introduce themselves I also had them share their preferred pronouns. (I always have students introduce themselves so we all know exactly who everyone is and how to say their names. I then insist that everyone get everyone else’s name right.) It was on the disastrous side. I was nervous about it, being the first time I had done it, and the students could tell. They also all knew each other from the program they were in and didn’t understand why this new instructor was asking them to share information they all already knew and that felt completely obvious to them. I fumbled through the explanation but I don’t think I did a great job at it. I hope that I didn’t cause any damage to any not-out transgender students. I tried this once more and it worked better but I’ve changed my approach after reading a few every well written pleas not to do things like this because you may put a student in a position where they feel like they have to out themselves when they are not ready. It was on tumblr and I wish I had bookmarked it but I didn’t. My new strategy is to give my preferred pronouns when I introduce myself so that students know that is an option but not to ask it of anyone. This is still a learning process for me but what is important here is that students get the idea that the classroom is for them. It is their space to learn. And, it is my job to do everything I can to make that known.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, making space so that other people have space. I’ve been thinking about it because I’ve been watching various horror stories unfold in online spaces. LGBTQIA+ people having to make their social media private because they are being targeted with hate speech. Black women being silenced, often by white women who claim to be allies, while they try to process the death of Nia Wilson at the hands of a white supremacist. It is important that people have that space. Space to process, space to live their lives, space to feel safe. And, its important that those of us with privilege listen to what others are telling us about their needs. We should be able to make that space. We should be able to defend that space so that they don’t have to defend it by themselves.

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