What does “inclusive” mean when it comes to sex ed?
For the last several years, Health Connected has put particular focus on LGBTQ-inclusivity to ensure that students of all sexual orientations and gender identities feel included, reflected, affirmed, and safe in our curricula. But LGBTQ-inclusivity is not the only set of identities that we want to be inclusive of. Every student arrives in the classrooms with identities informed by their class, religion, ethnicity, family immigration experience, and native language, among much else, that informs how they will experience puberty and sexual health education.
This is certainly something we’ve been aware of for several years, but until very recently, we haven’t tackled the full array of identities and their implications for our work explicitly and with intention. This shift was prompted by several internal conversations that started at least two years ago and were catalyzed by a series of recent aligned circumstances. One was a discussion about whether and how to collect self-reported student data on ethnic identity as a standard demographic question on our pre-/post-tests as we were entering the 2019-20 school year. The second was a discussion about curriculum updates at our annual staff summer planning retreat. And the third was the willingness of our Youth Services Manager, DaShanna Jones-Miles, to take the lead in facilitating a newly formed Inclusion Task Force.
Now, I want to pause for a moment and acknowledge that it is often the folks of color who end up having to take the lead on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As the organizational leader, it is something I am acutely aware of. I am Euro-American and thus have not had to constantly experience the negative effects of institutional racism, for example. For me, it feels disingenuous to lead an effort on inclusion with little direct experience of not having my identity reflected in the content of my education. DaShanna was similarly hesitant about taking on that role as the only African-American person on our staff and not wanting to constantly be in the position of having to raise questions about systemic ethnic oppression. But we are often most passionate about the injustices we have personally experienced and want to change. I am grateful that she was willing to take on this leadership role.
Over the next several months (and beyond), our Inclusion Task Force will be embarking on a journey to incorporate more conversations in our classrooms about power, privilege, systems of oppression, and how all of those things connect to all of the identities students, parents, and educators bring into the sex ed classroom. It will probably lead to some challenging, but necessary, discussions both internally and in our programs, but it is critical that we do this work. As we embark on this journey, we will continue to share our learnings and observations in hopes that others may explore those opportunities as well.