Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sooner Ally Training

I want to briefly talk about the Sooner Ally training I completed earlier this week.  Note:  this post was original supposed to come up a few days ago.  But several computer issues caused delays.

For those of you who are not at OU (or at OU and not aware), the Faculty Ally program is a training program jointly run by the Women's Outreach Center and the Learning and Teaching Program.  It's primary goal is to train staff and faculty (broadly defined) to help foster an open and inclusive academic environment. It is particularly focused on issues related to the LGBT community, but these concepts can obviously be applied more broadly.  Here's a link:

The training consisted of two sessions, each 1.5 hours.  The first day focused largely on a discussion of issues that the LGBT community faces in a broader context, as well as some discussion of potential resources. The second session was more practically focused on actual scenarios we might face in the academic world related to these issues.

At the end of the program, faculty can choose to sign up to be Allies.  Allies' names are listed on the website (though, faculty could opt out of that...) and we also got door signs, d2l widgets, t-shirts and other goodies.  At the end of the day, simply having these signs on the doors probably is the part of the program that has the greatest impact.  The training is otherwise not in depth enough.  Frankly, it probably couldn't be more involved... they are already asking for 3 hours of academics' time-- starting at 8 am no less.  More follow up sessions will occur and I plan to take part in those as well.  I did find the scenario training quite instructive, and that will form most of what I say at the end.

I learned a couple of different things from the program-- some of which were not the intended message.  For one, I learned that even folks who self-identify as allies can have views about the LGBT community that I find borderline offensive.  I still haven't resolved a couple of comments-- but this is not the forum.

Then again, I am also imperfect.  One of the things mentioned was that some Faculty Allies have expressed concern about putting up the ally sign on their door (see below)-- they didn't want people mis-identifying them as gay.  I'll admit, that was a fleeting thought that I had.  (For the record, the sign is on my door.) But there are definitely some underlying issues there-- again, this isn't the place.

                                                                    The Door Sign

This potentially leads to the question of what I think my role is.  Frankly, I don't think anything changes other than the visibility that I give to my views on the issue. I like to think that I have a very open relationship with my students.  I am an advocate for them in many different venues.  I hope that a student would feel comfortable enough without the official label, but if having it likely makes it more obvious.

The 2nd session focused on scenario training.  This session was excellent.  The facilitators were very clear that no single, simple answer existed for any scenario.  Context matters.  Circumstances matter.

To start the session we were split into smaller groups and given scenarios.  My group was given a scenario where a heated in-class discussion lead to a student shouting a vitriolic gay-slur (I won't type it here).  Our response was basically this:

1)  By allowing the discussion to get that heated, the instructor was setting the stage for the outburst.  Early control and tone-setting should help avoid these problems.

2)  Three out of the four members of the group agreed that the proper course of action to someone using directed hate speech was to immediately remove that person from the classroom (and possibly end class).  Personally, I would not allow the student to return to class without considerable consideration.  I would also report the incident to the Dean of Students/Student Affairs and my department head (along with anyone else who would be appropriate).  Only if I was satisfied that the offending student was truly repentant and that the victim (yes, that word is appropriate here) was willing to share a classroom with the student would I allow the student back.  That seems pretty unlikely.

One of the things that came up in the wider discussion was the lack of awareness that many of the instructors had about the level of control they had over their classrooms.  Removing disruptive students falls well within the purview of a teacher-- I hope that should it ever come up, we are willing to take that necessary step.

Our group was also challenged with a less egregious case. Rather than directed hate speech, a student uses the term gay as a pejorative, but not one directed at an individual or group (i.e., X is so gay). We were all a little stuck here.  I've reflected on it more since the training.  I would definitely say something in class-- I knew that even then, but I wasn't sure what I would say.

To me, I would treat it as an education problem, not a tolerance problem. I would simply describe the history of the term, its use a pejorative and matter-of-factly explain why it cannot be used in my class (and shouldn't be used elsewhere).  If the student continued to use it-- then my tactics would have to change.

Many of the scenarios posed many other unique challenges.  I won't go into them here.

Overall, while focused on the issues related to the LGBT community, most everything had much broader applications.  It was great teacher/academic citizen training. I do believe that more LGBT issues could have been discussed more directly and in more depth, but with the limited time we had, it was a great program. I definitely recommend it to all of my OU colleagues.

If anyone would like to share some challenges they've faced in their classrooms and the actions they took, I would love to hear/discuss.