“I got tenure in 2011, and as a queer and transgender person, I noticed there wasn’t a huge amount of community,” the history professor recalls. “There’s the Positive Space Faculty & Staff Network, which is great. But in terms of the day to day lives of students and faculty members, there was no curriculum basis for building a sense of belonging and recognition.”
It wasn’t until Blake began to focus more seriously on equity and inclusion issues at the university and found a group of like-minded colleagues that the LGBTQ2S+ undergraduate minor was born.
“Finding a group of colleagues to work with me on developing an LGBTQ2S+ minor was part of my thinking and sense of leadership around equity, diversity, and inclusion at TMU,” he says. “We just needed to be brought together to create something particularly for undergrad students. They’re the biggest part of the TMU population, so this is something that serves many.”
Beginning in September 2023, the new minor will allow students to take six courses from a selection of 25 from across three TMU faculties. The multidisciplinary offerings are almost all accessible to students in any program, and Blake expects that the range of courses — and students who choose to take them — will grow over time.
The minor will benefit LGBTQ2S+ students in a number of ways.
“It meets our students where they are,” Blake says. “Our student body is extremely diverse in terms of people’s identities and lived experiences, [and] the program will offer students a chance to think in that intersectional way and see different aspects of who they are.”
Uniquely, the minor provides an opportunity for LGBTQ2S+ students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum within the context of a safe and inclusive classroom community.
“It’s critically important that students see themselves reflected in the classroom — in terms of who’s teaching the class and the content, [in] an environment where they can be who they are, ask the questions they want to ask, and feel validated in terms of their identity and lived experience,” Blake says.
The program will also benefit students who don’t identify with any part of the LGBTQ2S+ acronym.
“For example, this term I’m teaching a Transgender Histories seminar course,” Blake says. “I have twenty students and they don’t all see themselves under the identity of trans and non-binary. Some said they wanted to take the course because it’s an issue they’re hearing a lot about in the news. Or they have friends, relatives, and classmates who identify as trans and non-binary. They want to figure out, ‘How can I be more supportive? How can I be a better ally?’ So there’s value there for our whole range of students.”
Blake says the skills and perspectives that students obtain in the LGBTQ2S+ minor will appeal to employers post-graduation.
“An employer can see that a student made the effort to do a minor and is engaged in key issues beyond their major program of study,” Blake says. “[The minor] indicates to employers that the student is thoughtful and engaged.”
Employers will also appreciate that graduates with an LGBTQ2S+ minor will have spent substantial time thinking and learning about equity, diversity, and inclusion, an increasingly valuable and transferable workplace skill that falls under the larger umbrella of social and emotional skills such as cultural awareness and empathy.
“These kinds of knowledge and skills will be useful and applicable to questions of diversity and inclusion far beyond LGBTQ2S+ populations,” says Blake.
Beyond the workplace, the minor will allow students to build skills as activists and future change-makers. Through coursework, students will learn about topics such as LGBTQ2S+ populations across different cultures and time periods, individual and collective forms of resistance to marginalization, abuse, and exclusion, and Canadian and global perspectives on activism and human rights. And the program will encourage students to ask questions and explore how past political movements might relate to contemporary challenges.
For example, “When is it possible to join with other people around particular sexual or gender identities to bring about change? How do you make judgment calls about what type of action is appropriate and safe to undertake? What will make a certain group of politicians, business leaders, military leaders, or health authorities listen and take positive action? Why do some movements have an enormous impact and then disappear very quickly?” Blake asks. “This type of knowledge will allow students to apply it in a way that makes sense in the present day.”
Blake sees the launch of the new TMU minor as a beginning, not an end. “It’s the first building block,” he says.
In future, Blake hopes to work with colleagues to create programming related to the minor, bring in speakers, host events and student research presentations, and more.
“I think [the program] is the beginning of forming those connections that, as we know, form our own undergraduate lives,” he says. “It’s not just a group of courses that students take and don’t know how to connect with each other…these can stay with them. These years are incredibly important.”