Responding to Challenging Issues of Gender and Sexual Identity Elizabeth Wadell International Education Center at Diablo Valley College Pleasant Hill, California, USA
A student gave a presentation on "Homosexuality in Morocco”….Afterward, the floor was open for discussion/questions. One student asked the presenters opinion about whether homosexuality was "right or wrong"--however, he was giggling as he said this… The presenter stated his opinion, which brought more discussion. One student, who is studying to be an imam…, stated that it was a sin--as declared in the Quran. This brought up a huge debate...The debate went back and forth until one student said, "you dont understand the Quran; you are wrong." This is when I had to intervene and teach the students about "safe space" in the classroom; that is, when they are in the class, they must use respectful language and respect each others ideas, and that there are no bad and/or wrong ideas.
Agenda• Background• Survey of US teachers• Experiences of teachers in Morocco• Suggestions for responding to challenging situations about gay and lesbian identities
Background• Identity—affects opportunities for interaction and language learning (Norton Peirce, 1995)• Gay or lesbian identity—hidden in class (Nelson, 2010; Kappra & Vandrick, 2006)• Teachers’ experiences (Nelson, 2009; Curran, 2006; Peters, 2006; Courtney, 2007)
US Teachers• In my advanced conversation class students select news articles to discuss with the group. One of my students selected an article about the growing popularity of civil unions in France and elsewhere. The article included discussion of how civil union laws affect homosexuals.
• I heard a male student (A) make [a comment] to another male student (B) during a Find Someone Who exercise. The question was "Are you married?" and another was "Do you have a girlfriend?" …. Well, student B said no to both questions and student A said "What, are you gay?"
• It really is a delicate balance because you want to respect students opinions and at the same time protect students who might get hurt.
Teachers in Morocco• One young woman who grew up in France self-identified as a lesbian, and she wrote about […] another girl having been in love with her [in high school. . .] in her first writing assignment. While I was not shocked by the content, I was very curious that a student would adopt such a confessional approach to her first paper. I didnt feel comfortable asking her why she had done that, but Im still curious.
• We discussed how is it to be different/marginalized/etc. in society and what sorts of people struggle with this in todays world most significantly.
Suggestions1. Be aware that students may have “hidden identities” (Vandrick, 1997) and how your words may affect them.2. Be respectful of students who tell you that they are gay or lesbian.3. Create atmosphere of respect/support in class, and perhaps a class contract.
4. Model showing respect to all students and their beliefs.5. Remind students that learning a new language involves communicating with people from other backgrounds and cultures, so they should be tolerant of others.6. Push students to critically examine stereotypes.
7. If students disagree about a topic like homosexuality, push them to examine why they think the way they do.8. Use topic of homosexuality to discuss issues of pragmatics, body language, and cultural differences.