Project homecoming brings GLBTSSS to high schools

LGBTQ students at IU will soon have the opportunity to address bullying against their community by going back to their own high schools.

This will be part of a different type of homecoming for the students.

Project Homecoming, a new initiative from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services, aims to improve the environment in which children learn and grow.

The project will address harassment in high schools, offer insight into ways that schools can provide informational materials to the school to help educate teachers and students.

Same-sex marriage has become legal in 32 states, including Indiana , and many others are poised to join them.

IU is Largely considered to be one of the most gay-friendly campuses in the country, according to Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization that works to promote a safe college environment for LGBTQ ?students.

81.9 percent of students who identify as LGBTQ were bullied in 2010 because of their sexual orientation, according to a National School Climate Survey in 2011.

The plan for Project Homecoming is to have student volunteers open up a dialogue with their high schools and start discussing what can be done to improve the LGBTQ experience at each specific school.

From there, students and the schools can take it where they feel it needs to go.

The project’s open-ended structure allows students the freedom to cater their work to their specific high school. It also personalizes each plan.

This could mean working with the school on getting instructional or informational materials on the shelves in the school library or helping to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance at the school.

Additionally, it could also mean addressing harassment or even hosting a panel discussion on sexuality at school and talking about their personal experiences.

“Every student would have to determine in conversation with the school what is the best approach: ‘What do you need, and how can I be of help to you?’” GLBTSSS Coordinator Doug Bauder said.

Bauder said he believes because students are now coming out earlier, universities such as IU are in a good position to provide resources and help reduce sexuality-based ?harassment.

“When this office opened in 1994, this was the time when students came out,” Bauder said. “Students were waiting until they came to college to announce this part of themselves. Well that’s now happening much younger.”

Because students are coming out at younger ages, Bauder said it is beneficial to have advocates within their high schools, which is where Project Homecoming would enter the picture.

“At the moment, one of the biggest bullying problems in schools in Indiana is LGBTQ and perceived LGBTQ status,” said Barbara Dennis, associate professor at the School of? Education.

“That’s been a documented large problem in Indiana schools.”

Dennis is involved with GLBTSSS and has served on the GLBT incident team, which deals with campus harassment issues. She is currently involved in taking this project to the next level.

“I applied for a grant in the School of Education, which supports doing research that can make changes to K-12 schooling,” Dennis said. “It is an action-research oriented project and really critical and participatory.”

Dennis received a small amount of money from the grant for the project.

Part of her role in the project is to accompany students on their trips back to their high schools and conduct research and gather data.

The project is still in its early stages, and Bauder and Dennis are in the process of looking for students who are interested to get involved.

They aren’t looking for anything specific, they are looking for students to get involved in any way they can.

“I’m really excited to be a part of the students creatively reflecting and doing something about their past experiences,” Dennis said about the project.

“I think we don’t often get that opportunity, and it’s a kind of scary one, but also there’s some really cool potential that could be really empowering. It could be kind of freeing, could bring some resolution to things,” Dennis said.

Looking to the big picture, Dennis said she hopes working with high schools and bringing attention to these issues will bring forth change.

“I really want research and projects like this to ultimately bring about schools which are safe and supportive and inclusive environments for all the children we have in this country,” Dennis said.

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