Supporting LGBTQ+ Students

In 2022, NIU was ranked the most LGBTQ+-friendly college in Illinois by BestColleges and was included in Campus Pride’s “Best of the Best” list for LGBTQ+-friendly colleges and universities in the United States. LGBTQ+ students benefit largely from the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) and LGBTQ+-specific programming from the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality (CSWGS), but all courses and programs can benefit from integrating LGBTQ+-inclusive content. While identity may not seem central to understanding the concepts of your courses, LGBTQ+ identities cannot be divorced from students’ experiences as learners.

Some of the barriers LGBTQ+ students face may be overt (such as being publicly misgendered or identified by the incorrect name), and others may be covert (such as a lack of representation of LGBTQ+-related content in the course). Even if it isn’t intentional, overlooking LGBTQ+ identities in your course sends the message to LGBTQ+ students that they don’t belong and/or their identities are unimportant.

Whether a student invites you in by sharing their gender or sexuality with you or you’re looking to be more inclusive and mindful with your courses or actions, here are some resources to help you become an active ally of LGBTQ+ students. The development of this toolkit is part of an ongoing partnership between the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL), CSWGS, and GSRC. New resources are added regularly, so feel free to visit often.

LGBTQ+ Identities

LGBTQ+ is an umbrella term used to identify people who don’t identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender. It’s important that we avoid making assumptions about students’ identities because of their gender presentation, behavior, and/or interests. For further understanding of LGBTQ+ identities, visit the GSRC’s LGBTQ+ Terminology List. Because heterosexual and cisgender identities are the norm in many cultures and spaces in the United States, LGBTQ+ students may encounter bias and microaggressions in the classroom and the wider NIU community. For more information on addressing microaggressions and bias, visit the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Educators Toolkit.

Because identities are intersectional, we need to recognize that LGBTQ+ students’ experiences and identities are individualized. Intersecting identities, such as gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity can impact the ways in which individuals experience acceptance and validation or violence and erasure. This means that we can’t make assumptions about our students’ relationships, hardships, or interests and that we need to be attentive to the assumptions and biases that we bring into the classroom.

Affirming Identity

When students feel affirmed in and out of the classroom, they are likelier to experience academic success. It is important that students feel respected, included, safe, and affirmed in their classroom spaces and within the curriculum.

If a student discloses information about their gender identity or sexuality, they are inviting you to understand them better. Like with any other identity or experience, when a student shares information regarding their gender or sexuality with you, it is not your information to disclose to anyone else, thereby outing them. LGBTQ+ students shouldn’t be expected to reveal details about their behaviors or history to help other members of the class understand or believe them. Likewise, students should not be tokenized or asked to interpret or defend materials in class solely as a representative of their identity.

As an educator, you should make an effort to learn all the students’ names and pronouns, just like you expect them to learn yours. If you make a mistake, correct yourself, apologize, and try to do better next time.

Commitment to Inclusive Policies

As you create your syllabus and throughout the semester, it is important to include inclusive policies, practices, and language in your syllabus.

Some examples of specific language you could use:

Add the names and pronouns of the faculty and TAs on the syllabus.

If you want to be referred to by a particular honorary or name, identify that in the contact information, as well.

Call your instructor Dr. F (she/her). Call your teaching assistants Tia (they/she) and Mr. Alex (he/him).

Add a statement on names and pronouns to your syllabus.

Class rosters and University data systems are provided to faculty that contain either your legal name or your preferred/proper name. As an NIU student, you're able to change how your preferred/proper name appears on class rosters. This option is helpful for various student populations, including but not limited to students who abbreviate their first name, students who use their middle name, and transgender students. As a faculty member, I am committed to using your proper name and pronouns. We will take time during our first class together to do introductions, at which point you can share with all members of our learning community what name and pronouns you use, as you are comfortable. Additionally, if these change at any point during the semester, please let me know and we can develop a plan to share this information with others in a way that is safe for you.

Should you want to update your preferred/proper name, you can do so by looking at the following guidelines and frequently asked questions:

For more considerations, see the Trans at NIU Resource Guide

You can also briefly discuss what pronouns are and why they are important - helpful guide to pronouns

Add a statement about respectful discourse to your syllabus.

I am committed to making course content accessible to all students and providing every student with a respectful learning experience. We have a diverse community, and I want to make sure that we encourage and appreciate expressions of different ideas, opinions, and beliefs. You are never required to agree with me or a text we discuss, but we must all be open to others’ experiences and worldviews. Conversations and interactions that could potentially be divisive should turn into intellectual and personal enrichment opportunities. Respecting one another's individual differences is critical in transforming a collection of diverse individuals into an inclusive, collaborative, and excellent learning community. We will NOT be debating the right of anyone to exist or have rights based on gender, sexuality, race, ability, nationality, or any other identity. If you have questions or want to engage in a discussion about these identities or human rights, please contact me directly.

Add a statement to your syllabus on the use of gender inclusive language for both classroom space and within papers and projects.

Using the singular ‘they’ is an important way to refer to people when you don’t know their gender. ‘They’ has been officially recognized as an appropriate way to refer to a singular person by the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, as well as writing style guides such as MLA and APA.

Using gender-inclusive language is an effective way of talking to or about people without misgendering them. Some gender-inclusive ways to address or talk about people include “individual,” “person,” “people,” “friend(s),” “comrade(s),” “y’all,” “everyone,” “team,” “folx,” or “scholars.”

Navigating the First Week of Class

It is important to set the tone of inclusivity at the very beginning of your class. Simple things such as offering opportunities for students to self-identify and share with you and their classmates the name and pronouns with which they identify can assist in making the classroom feel more inclusive. One great strategy for all classroom spaces for you as the educator to share your name, pronouns, and honorifics with your students clearly and frequently. Sharing your name, pronouns, and honorifics in the syllabus, emails, course announcements, multi-media presentations, and lecture notes, creates an environment where students are more likely to share with you and encourages students to be intentional about how they address one another.

You can also make an announcement on the first day of class, in addition to the syllabus statement you have included, that students can indicate their preferred names within NIU systems and that you will respect the name with which they identify. You can invite them to share with you privately to correct the name that is on their roster, as well.

An important activity for all classrooms is to create a classroom values document, community document, or a classroom rules document. With your students, brainstorm ideas about how you want to treat each other, how you will handle particular topics that may be discussed, how important it is to share space and air time, and how you will engage when someone makes a mistake. Posting this document on your Blackboard allows students to see these values or rules and also allows you to come back to the document when needed.

Having students self-identify their names and pronouns can be very important. One strategy faculty can engage is offering space for all students to introduce themselves using the name and pronouns with which they identify. As students do this, faculty can look at their class rosters and make any changes they hear as students introduce themselves.

Another strategy is for students to have a sign-in sheet where they indicate their names and pronouns. This strategy can be especially useful because it allows students to self-identify and for you to have the students’ name and spelling so you can indicate it on your grade roster.

In large classrooms, it can be difficult to know all students by name. One strategy for learning and using names is to ask students for their name as you call on them.

Another strategy is to never assume a student's gender when calling on them. Use gender inclusive language such as "they" instead of "mister", "miss," and other gendered terms. Try to use language that does not assume you know the students' identities. Allow them to share and/or don't use language that genders them if you don't know their gender.

Important Reminders

  • A student’s name or pronouns may change in your class as the semester progresses, especially if they feel supported by you and their classmates. If this happens, affirm their identity by changing any attendance sheets or documents to match the student’s name and pronouns.
  • Please note that some people don’t use pronouns or may not be comfortable sharing their pronouns with everyone in the class. If a student doesn’t want to share their pronouns, be sure to refer to them only by their name.
  • If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, share your own pronouns before asking for their pronouns.

LGBTQ+-Inclusive Course Design

Inclusivity starts with the foundation of your course design. By being intentional with the resources shared and including statements that acknowledge and support LGBTQ+ students, you send a clear message that LGBTQ+ individuals and identities are important in higher education, your field, and the world beyond. Class content should not focus on debating the existence or validity of LGBTQ+ people’s bodies, relationships, or identities. Whether or not students have disclosed that they are LGBTQ+ identifying, debating the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals is dehumanizing and hurtful. Here are some ways that you may incorporate content and perspectives from LGBTQ+ individuals into your course.

Integrate LGBTQ+ Topics and Resources into the Course in Meaningful Ways

  • Use primary and secondary readings or adaptations by or about LGBTQ+ identities.
  • Use a queer theoretical approach when discussing materials.
  • Discuss current news stories or historical events that are relevant to LGBTQ+ identities.
  • Avoid having a single day or week devoted the LGBTQ+ topics; instead, embed these topics throughout the course.

Incorporate LGBTQ+ People and Perspectives into the Class

  • Bring in a guest speaker (in-person, virtual, or pre-recorded) or use a relevant pre-existing recording or video.
  • Interrogate stereotypes about and/or expectations of someone who works in the field—is it someone who is cisgender and heterosexual?

Create Expectations and Boundaries for How Groups Work

  • Often, LGBTQ+ students worry about working with unsupportive peers in small groups.
  • With your students, create a document that outlines that all students will be treated with respect, dignity, and understanding.

Mistake Recovery

It is important to remember that we all make mistakes. At some point, you and your students may make a mistake by misgendering someone or saying something that is not supportive. Remember, it is important to own your mistake, learn from it, and move on. Belaboring the issue, making a big deal about the mistake, and/or having the person who has been hurt comfort you does not help the situation. Instead, remember that everything is an opportunity for learning.

If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and work to learn from it and to avoid making it in the future. Talk about mistake recovery in your classroom values statements and come up with a plan with your class about how you all will engage with each other when mistakes are made.

Learn More

NIU's Gender and Sexuality Resource Center offers LGBQ and Trans Ally Training sessions throughout the year.

Resources for LGBTQ+ Students

Here are some helpful resources that you can share with LGBTQ+ students to help them navigate NIU and discover community.

  • The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) provides support for LGBTQ+ students across the University. Students may want to use their on-site resources and facilities, attend their events, or join their programs to connect with other LGBTQ+ individuals and allies on campus.
  • Prism is NIU’s LGBTQ+ and ally student organization. Prism’s members are both LGBTQ+ students and allies.
  • Gender-inclusive restroom map for NIU’s DeKalb campus - NIU’s DeKalb campus interactive map includes information about which buildings have gender-inclusive restrooms.
  • Students can update the names and pronouns used for NIU through the registrar. This will update their name on class rosters, academic requirements reports (ARR), grade rosters, online directories, Outlook 365, Blackboard, OneCard, and the commencement program.
  • The LGBTQA Community provides on-campus housing for students who identify as LGBTQ+ or allies.
  • The Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality (CSWGS) provides programs, events, and classes that support LGBTQ+ identities, communities, and histories.

Additional Information or Resources

Do you have an additional resource to share with NIU faculty? Email the URL, title, and brief description of suggested resources to for consideration.

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning staff are available for consultations on strategies for inclusive teaching or being an active ally and can be reached at 815-753-0614 or


This guide was developed in partnership with the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

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