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Q&A With Karyl Ketchum

Creating Successful School Environments for LGBT Students

Dec. 13, 2013

Karyl E. Ketchum, assistant professor of women and gender studies, knows the challenges LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students face in schools. To educate others on LGBT students, gender and bullying, Ketchum spearheaded the development of CSUF's first-of-its kind online course, "Understanding and Addressing LGBT and Gender-Based Bullying," offered since July 2012 through University Extended Education.

The researcher and advocate also moderated a panel discussion that addressed issues affecting transgender students at the recent educational symposium, "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: On Your Campus and in Your Classroom," presented by the College of Education's Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership. Ketchum explains how educators, and others, can become better informed to create successful, safe and inclusive school learning environments for LGBT students — as well as for all students.

Why should K-12 educators address the needs of LGBT students?
These students are at significantly higher risk of experiencing violence and harassment at school. This is particularly true for some transgender students whose bodies and identities are not easily read as 'male' or 'female,' thereby setting them up as a target within campus cultures where rigid gender norms are in place.

What has your research shown about bullying in schools?
On campuses where gender roles and expectations are highly codified and pervasive, students are in trouble. And, not just LGBT students, all students: young women are potentially targeted for bullying if they are bold, powerful in their body, outspoken or studious — as none of these characteristics are compatible with the traditional (stereotypical) gender norms of Western femininity. Likewise, young men also are potential targets for bullying, harassment and violence if they are perceived to be in any way as gentle, caring, sensitive, quiet, nonathletic or otherwise not physically powerful, studious, or even if they demonstrate an interest in art, dance and music. This results in campus cultures where young men are rewarded for conforming to the most aggressive, violent, and personally damaging stereotypes of Western masculinity, and they are in effect, punished for deviating from these. It is important for educators to understand that academic success is, in many ways, discouraged on campuses where gender-rigid norms prevail.

What are some of the challenges LGBT students face?
For LGBT students on campuses where gender operates through rigid norms, things are even more complicated — and dangerous. Gender-rigid campus cultures are extremely hostile places for these students who inherently understand and experience gender, biological sex and sexual orientation as complex, fluid and varying. The fear and isolation LGBT students experience can come to pervade their academic life, so that a successful school day is one where they were not targeted for bullying, harassment and violence. This translates into some deeply disturbing statistics.

What can educators do to ensure a safe learning environment?
They can educate themselves on the differences between biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Our "Understanding and Addressing LGBT and Gender-Based Bullying" course also is critical. This course gives very practical information specifically attuned to educators, parents, allies and students. We're hearing that information the course offers about being in compliance with California's safe school laws and resetting campus cultures so that LGBT students — and all students — have a safe and productive learning environment is really working!

What's next for the anti-bullying course?
Beginning this spring, the course will also address the transgender and gender nonconforming, or gender-creative, student population. Participants will meet transgender students and their families and also learn about the School Success and Opportunity Act, known as AB 1266, which goes into effect Jan. 1. This new law goes some distance toward protecting transgender students at school — and I believe, it provides an opportunity for all of us in education to learn more about how gender identity, gender expression and gender norms affect our campuses and students' success more widely.

Media Contacts:
Karyl E. Ketchum, Women and Gender Studies, 657-278-2480
Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research