Young adulthood can be a challenging time. Everyone is experiencing a lot of changes to their lives. No one can go through this alone. What are people supposed to do if their peers aren’t inclusive? Everyone deserves to feel welcome, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, or income.
Did you know that you, as a student, have the power to make your school a safer environment for everyone? With these three easy steps, you can ensure that all your peers feel more included!
1. Celebrate differences!
Does your school have a Queer-Straight Alliance, Culture Club, or Social Justice Committee? Get involved and raise awareness! Host Bisexuality Day, celebrate Black History Month, or observe International Women’s Day. Show everyone that their differences are awesome and they’re welcome in your school. If your school doesn’t have one of these clubs, it’s time to start one! With the help of a teacher, create a safe space for people who feel excluded.
If you’re creating an event or club, consult people who identify within the marginalized group that you're representing. Remember this rule of thumb: raise minority voices, don’t speak over them.
2. Change your wording!
You are likely using or hearing exclusionary language in your everyday life. Don't fret — this doesn't make you a terrible person, and its very easy to change your words. Although it may seem harmless, this small step makes a world of difference. It’s as simple as saying “folks” instead of “ladies and gentlemen”. Use people-first language such as “a person with schizophrenia” instead of “a schizophrenic”. Ask someone for their pronouns if you aren’t sure. It may seem insignificant, but small changes will make your peers feel safe and included! If you notice someone in your school using exclusionary language, say something! In an appropriate situation (not in front of the whole class!), explain why the language that they are using is harmful. Afterwards, direct them to the appropriate alternative. Nine times out of ten, the other person will listen, and they’ll start making changes for the better, too!
In some cases, adolescents exclude others because they don’t understand their differences. The best way to combat this is to educate others. If possible, work with a staff member to book a guest speaker. Hearing the impacts of discrimination first-hand can have a huge impact on people! Looking for somewhere to start? The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity and Youthspeak have exceptional speakers. If you have the opportunity, you could even use your own voice! If you have a presentation coming up in a history, law, or politics course, use it to educate others on an issue that you’re passionate about. It’s amazing how people will listen when you use your words for good.
4. Look at it from another perspective!
Sometimes we get caught up in the way that we experience life. Every so often, take a step back and analyze how other students experience your school. Are there working elevators for people who use mobility devices? Do you read books and watch movies with diverse characters? Is there a gender-neutral washroom in your school? Is there somewhere for students to receive extra academic, social, or emotional support? If the answer to any of these questions (or others like them) is no, advocate for change. Research the issue and find out who is responsible - is it a teacher, the principal, or the school board? Contact this person with your concerns and work with them to make the
school safe for all students.
~ Written by Kate Ellis, high school student