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Advancing education for LGBTQQ youth

Professor Mollie Blackburn’s research making equality and access inroads

Middle and high school can be tough for any child. The dynamics are complex. Managing classwork, homework, before- and after-school activities, not to mention relationships with friends and families, is difficult enough to do individually. Putting them all together can be a stressful experience.

For children who are or may be queer, the challenges can be even greater.

Easing those challenges is a priority for Ohio State Professor Mollie Blackburn. Ever since Blackburn was in graduate school, she has worked to make learning more inclusive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students.

It all began for Blackburn as an LGTBQ youth center volunteer in Pennsylvania while in graduate school. She volunteered because she missed working with adolescents, as she had done for six years while a middle and high school language arts teacher in Georgia and California.

Her experiences at the center quickly turned into the work Blackburn has been committed to for more than 15 years.

“I want to figure out how to make schools better for LGBTQQ youth,” Blackburn said. “To move schools from where kids don’t want to go to schools that don’t accept them for who they are.”

Pursuit of equal learning

Ohio State is one of the leading universities tackling equity and access issues in education. The research is changing the ways people think about education for minority and multicultural groups.

Through literature, Blackburn is working to improve education for LGBTQQ youth.

She and colleague Professor Caroline Clark facilitate a teacher inquiry group they helped start in 2004. The group has met regularly since then to discuss how literature and film can help combat homophobia and heterosexism in classrooms and schools.

Having these group discussions allows teachers to develop new methods to try in classrooms. They also help start and facilitate gay-straight alliances and identify and nurture allies such as administrators, parents, families and community members.

The teacher inquiry group also has led Blackburn, in part, to her latest research interest – teaching literature featuring LGBTQQ characters at a local high school.

FACULTY PROFILE
Name: Mollie Blackburn
Title: Professor
Program Areas: Adolescent and Post-secondary Community Literacies; Language, Education and Society; Literature for Children and Young Adults; Multicultural and Equity Studies in Education
Research Interests: Adolescent literacy and language, LGBTQQ youth, social change

A novel approach

Minority groups are drastically underrepresented in literature. Likewise, they are not often discussed as a part of classroom curricula. And LGBTQQ perspectives might not be taught at all. In fact, each year hundreds of books are formally challenged for censorship in libraries and schools. Almost every year, the list includes books with gay and lesbian themes.

By examining how to incorporate literature into curricula that focuses on LGBTQQ issues, Blackburn hopes to improve equity and access in education. Her research with Clark exploring the conversations of a long-term book club is just one of many examples how they are seeking improvements. The club was initiated through their teacher inquiry group.

More than 20 gay and ally youth talked about various LGBTQQ-themed books for three years. Blackburn and Clark were able to identify how the youth processed the novels and connected with the characters to further meaning in their own lives.

In 2015, Blackburn will have the opportunity to take the LGBTQQ literary discussions from the book club to the classroom. She will be a guest teacher at a Columbus, Ohio, charter school to teach and discuss LGBTQQ-themed novels.

“I’m really excited to put this into practice,” Blackburn said. “Now I personally can see how LGBTQQ issues can be taught in the classroom.”

With this first step to incorporate sexuality issues into classroom literature discussion, Blackburn hopes it leads to additional opportunities and eventually having the subject taught in public schools.

“What I want is for schools to be safe for all youth, teachers and parents so they can have positive learning environments,” she said.

To learn more about academic opportunities in the Adolescent and Post-secondary Community Literacies program in Teaching and Learning, explore our degree options.