Push for progress
November 15, 2018
In response to inadequate results on the district survey regarding LGBTQ+ and non-binary student experiences, district and West administration have cultivated an enhanced community.
One previously-mentioned change was redesigning homecoming court. Due to a recommendation from a district task force committee, West altered the previous homecoming court selection process to become gender-neutral and category free, making it more inclusive of the student body.
Another measure that the school district is taking to improve the LGBTQ+ school experience is instituting Safe Zone training taught by University of Iowa staff as an option for teachers. According to the Safe Zone Project, Safe Zone training provides “opportunities to learn about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality and examine prejudice, assumptions and privilege.”
Previously, teachers had the option to put up stickers acknowledging that their classrooms are safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students. However, over time, these stickers will come down, replaced by signs given only to teachers who are trained and qualified to be Safe Zone instructors.
“Hopefully, we can get every teacher safe-zone trained,” Henderson said. “They’ll have the knowledge to understand the issues and help students who are in a crisis.”
Sader believes this change is a positive step in encouraging teacher support of the community.
“I think that training is a fantastic idea,” Sader said. “I think that, again, education is key. If those teachers are educated on helping students, they should definitely earn those plaques.”
However, though significant changes were made to make West a more inclusive community, Shoultz does not believe that this process is complete.
“I think [that] we’ve been a leader in the past couple [of] years,” Shoultz said. “If you look at some of the work we’ve done, it’s pretty strong work, but it’s a process. I think we have done some things that have been at the forefront, but I don’t think that by any stretches of imagination we’re done.”
Students believe that one way West can continue improving is by providing more instruction on the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
“There’s work to be done, and all of that work is educational,” Sader said. “You have to teach people about the LGBT community because as human beings, we’re afraid of the unknown … The more educated you are about different cultures, the more improved your life is going to be.”
Lidral praised these efforts, pointing to his own experience with teaching students about the transgender community as a reference for why LGBTQ+ individuals should be discussed more in the academic setting.
“In AP Psych, our teacher, [Travis] Henderson, has done a pretty good job of including gender and not forgetting about trans people in our lessons,” Lidral said. “That’s just nice to hear about. I think getting trans people into different discussions is a really good way to normalize it.”
As the new director of special equity projects, a division that emphasizes improving quality of educational life for minority students, Cottrell is looking for student voices to assist with helping improve even further.
“I know it is a courageous thing to reach out, but I hate having these conversations about what to do without having their voice at the table,” Cottrell said. “I have no voice from transitioning students, [and] it would be very valuable if I could get their feedback … I don’t feel right making those decisions without voices from people who are actually living it.”
Henderson reinforces that communication, validation and acceptance are ultimately what students in the LGBTQ+ community need.
“It does a lot of harm to have to live through your teenage years, some of your most formative years, and not be able to be yourself and really live your identity in that critical time,” Henderson said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think we’re taking steps in the right direction.”