Program-level interactions

Our individual interactions with students are heavily influenced by larger forces. Where a program’s structure creates settings that perpetuate experiences of discrimination and violence, prevent social inclusion, and block access to economic resources, our individual efforts toward more equitable interactions with students will be limited in their impact.

How can a program promote feelings of safety from discrimination and violence?

Countering experiences of discrimination and violence requires creating spaces where students can feel welcome, safe, understood, and connect with others from similar cultures and experiences.

  • Enrolment rates of Indigenous students have been increasing; however, challenges persist in their transition to post-secondary education due to relocation, feeling disconnected from their home and culture, and experiencing discrimination and violence 20. Initiatives that help to increase feelings of safety are:
    • Creating more safe spaces such as Indigenous Student Centres.
    • Transition programs which provide a warm transfer between secondary and
      postsecondary schools and cohort groups of students whom they can connect with.
    • Peer-support or peer-mentorship programs that connect upper year students with incoming students.
    • Using language that is accessible and supportive of first-generation students and their families.
  • LGBTQ2+ students are more visible on postsecondary campuses yet efforts to support them in feeling safe often results in the conflation of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex and is fundamentally different from a person’s sexual orientation.[1]Ontario Human Rights Commission. (n.d.) Gender identity and gender expression (brochure). Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/gender-identity-and-gender-expression-brochure


Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to how individuals define their sexual attraction to others. A person’s sexual orientation is not determined by their sexual history. It may also change over the course of a person’s life. and is fundamentally different from a person’s sexual orientation.[2]Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (n.d.) Mental Health Services for Gender Diverse and Sexual Minority Youth. Retrieved from https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/mental-health-services-for-gender-diverse-and-sexual-minority-youth/


Consider how spaces on campus can become inclusive of students of all sexual orientations, and how healthcare and counselling offices can meet the needs of students identifying differently to the gender they were assigned at birth. Initiatives include:

  • Creating LGBTQ2+ campus resource centers staffed by professionals and students.
  • Designing programming on campus to support LGBTQ2+ students and educate others about inclusion on an ongoing basis, starting with orientation week.
  • Work with faculty and staff to enhance visibility of LGBTQ2+ topics in curriculum, contributing toward more inclusive classroom experiences.

It is important to remember that for some students, their sexual orientation or gender identity may not be their most salient identity during life on campus, with their racial, political or religious identity being more prominent. Acknowledging such diversity within the LGBTQ2+ community is as important as recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity on campus as a whole.[3]Renn, K. (2017). LGBTQ Students on Campus: Issues and Opportunities for Higher Education Leaders. Higher Education Today. Retrieved from https://www.higheredtoday.org/2017/04/10/lgbtq-students-higher-education/

How can a program support social inclusion?

Social InclusionSocial inclusion requires a foundation of safety, enabling students to engage with others. This requires a review of how traditional practices and methodologies can become more dynamic, fluid, and reflective of cultural histories. A significant challenge in the campus environment are the foundational values which inform the learning experience. Canadian educational institutions promote values of competitiveness and maximizing individual achievement. Globally viewed as primarily Western values, these may be alienating for students from cultures where group achievement is valued over individual achievement.[4]Guo, S. & Jamal, Z. (2007). Nurturing Cultural Diversity in Higher Education: A Critical Review of Selected Models. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 37(3), 27-49. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ799706.pdf While this is one example, it is representative of the subtle ways in which traditional classroom culture and expectations may leave some students feeling excluded.

How can a program promote access to economic resources?

Integral to the promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing, students must feel they are able to achieve a lifestyle that allows them to pursue their educational goals. This is possible through programs that support students in accessing safe and affordable housing, applying to different sources of funding and employment opportunities. As noted earlier, Indigenous students often incur expenses having to relocate for postsecondary education. These students already face significant barriers to accessing economic resources in their home communities, placing them at a greater disadvantage. The same is true for international students, who leave their support networks in their home countries and are subject to high fees due to their status. The questions below consider barriers that may discourage students from accessing support.

  • How is the program promoted on campus? What materials are used (flyers, screen advertisements, phone applications, websites)?
  • What does promotion for these services reflect, and who among the staff members are aware of them and how to share information about them?
  • How do students access the program, and what are the steps involved in the process?
  • What accommodations are available to support students? How would students learn about them, and go about requesting them?
  • Are the staff within the program prepared to provide culturally competent services?
  • How is the knowledge held by staff in this area used to inform policies at a higher level, to ensure all areas are communicating about the role of equity across programs?

References

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (n.d.) Gender identity and gender expression (brochure). Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/gender-identity-and-gender-expression-brochure
Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (n.d.) Mental Health Services for Gender Diverse and Sexual Minority Youth. Retrieved from https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/mental-health-services-for-gender-diverse-and-sexual-minority-youth/
Renn, K. (2017). LGBTQ Students on Campus: Issues and Opportunities for Higher Education Leaders. Higher Education Today. Retrieved from https://www.higheredtoday.org/2017/04/10/lgbtq-students-higher-education/
Guo, S. & Jamal, Z. (2007). Nurturing Cultural Diversity in Higher Education: A Critical Review of Selected Models. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 37(3), 27-49. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ799706.pdf
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