London researchers working on a proactive approach to inclusiveness in the classroom

Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute have launched a pilot study and pilot project called Queer in the Classroom, to examine the benefits of a proactive, inclusive approach within the education system for those who are part of the 2SLBTGQIA+ student community.

“The Queer in the Classroom initiative is so important because when we look at the data, youth in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are 14 times more likely to die by suicide,” says Dr. Arlene MacDougall, Lawson Scientist, Director of MINDS and Psychiatrist at St. Joseph’s Health Care London. “We need to be focusing on this population who are also experiencing a higher degree of isolation, stigma and substance use.”

The pilot project focuses on professional development for teachers and staff to help create an environment that is tailored to best support 2SLGBTQIA+ students through the additional stress they face as a minority group. 

“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,” explains MacDougall. “The focus is to create an environment that is more affirming, that is more responsive and more proactive rather than reactive.”

The foundation for the pilot project came from a scoping review of existing research on this topic conducted by the research team through the Mental Health INcubator for Disruptive Solutions (MINDS), that looked extensively at how teachers themselves can create a classroom that embraces all students. 

Dr. Arlene MacDougall and Iylah Neves
Iylah Neves and Dr. Arlene MacDougall

“We further conducted our own research based on a series of interviews of 2SLGBTQIA+ students at both elementary and secondary schools in Ontario, and their parents and teachers. We focused on not only their safety in school, but also being celebrated for who they are,” says Iylah Neves, Lawson Research Assistant through MINDS.  “We drew on all of this research to best inform the practices we are using with the Queer in the Classroom initiative.”

Currently the Queer in the Classroom project is being rolled out on a ‘by-request’ basis. However, the research team is working with a couple of school boards within Ontario to discuss the possibility of wider implementation.

“Queer in the Classroom has been driven by the voices of students with personal experiences who feel there is a deep need for this type of innovation,” says Neves. “It is our responsibility to make those changes so that students can access a safe, inclusive and nurturing environment.”

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Celine Zadorsky

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Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. 75664
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