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DeLee Benton - President, AMEA Collegiate Division


WHY ARE LGBTQ+ STUDENTS DRAWN TO THE MUSIC CLASSROOM?


Oftentimes in the modern school system we see efforts to “include everyone”. Yet many state governments and school administrators simultaneously preach the suppression of certain minorities. Most often these minorities are LGBTQ+ students, and even faculty, that do not receive the proper inclusion in the general education system. While schools push for students to succeed in STEM subjects, many of these minority students instead turn to the arts to find a place of solace from the pressures of daily academic life. A place where they can be themselves. Inclusion is a large part of students’ enjoyment of arts programs, specifically in music. McBride says, “For many LGBTQ students and teachers, music classrooms are still one of the most accepting and safe spaces in… schools today.” (2016).


The Music Educator plays a crucial role in the LGBTQ+ students’ feeling of acceptance and presence in the classroom. If the Educator is unwelcoming and intolerant toward the minority students, the rest of the class will perceive this hostility and react in some way. Music Educators must understand the importance of their role and the influence they have on their students. Each of their students will form a bond with music that is their own, helping the student on their journey through life as they discover how to express themselves to others successfully. It is the task of the Music Educator to provide a haven for this discovery to take place.


Why is it that the music classroom seems to be so pertinent to the LGBTQ+


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community’s sense of belonging? Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choirs at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Garret, says that like any student, “LGBTQ students want to belong. They want positive reinforcement from teachers that they are okay. Music educators can provide this type of positive support in a number of ways, many of which focus on inclusion.” (2012).


Inclusion in the music classroom is essential in all aspects and stages of the students’ lives. “Music educators provide students with opportunities to create, perform, and reflect as individuals and as members of a group. Establishing a positive and inclusive


learning


environment is essential to maximizing student potential” (Garret, 2012). In elementary music children learn songs together: singing together, playing together, and learning instruments together as a group. As band and choir students age, they see the same inclusiveness arise in working together for a common goal— the next concert or competition. The students find it easy to belong to a group of people who all share a deep passion for similar things. At the same time, these students also desire a place where they can be an individual.


In the modern age, LGBTQ+ students find it hard to cope with the day to day struggles they face. Roughly 90% of LGBTQ+ high school students report being verbally harassed due to their sexual orientation, 60% feel unsafe on a regular basis, nearly half experience physical harassment or assault, and almost 2/3


hear homophobic remarks from school personnel. (Bergonzi, 2009). The very people charged with protecting students are helping to put LGBTQ+ students in dangerous emotional and physical states. The music classroom has the potential to protect its students from these dangers, and it all begins with the efforts of the Music Educator.


The first step to making a classroom safe for any minority is to be aware of your own personal bias(es) and be willing to accept any student that comes your way. The educator must be open and provide a welcoming classroom environment, so no student feels rejected or unwanted. Bergonzi describes this fine line: “Rather than well-intended sympathy, empathy from and supportive alliances with straight teachers, staff, and students are needed.” This means instead of simply feeling bad for the LGBTQ+ community, you are trying to truly understand their predicament and what you can do to help. It is not the students’ fault they may feel unsafe, but perhaps the fact that they truly are not safe in their day to day environment. Once the educator understands this, they can create a safer space for their students and provide an example to the future educators in the room and to other classrooms in the county and even the state. Garret mentions that the societal norm that prohibits many teachers from realizing their classroom is not as inclusive as it could be is easily overcome through communication: “Personal bias is frequently identified as an obstacle to inclusion of LGBTQ students, whether based on religious beliefs or on other


February/March 2019


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