Calling All Allies - Dr. Emily Meadows
The counselor's team organized a workshop for ASH staff, parents and students with Dr. Emily Meadows. The workshop was called Calling All Allies, and addressed common misconceptions and myths of the LGBTQ community, and gave insight into how we can scale our allyship and advocacy.
Dr. Emily Meadows (she/her) is an LGBTQ consultant specifically for international schools. In this interview, Dr. Meadows shares more about the meaning of safe space, the role and responsibility of international schools in providing a safe space for, and the impact of investing in inclusion work.
Could you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your professional journey?
I work to build safety, equity and belonging for LGBTQ people within the context of international schools. Part of how I got here myself is that I grew up in an international school, so this is really my world and my home. I started off as a school counselor, which is still a way that I do think about this work - it’s through that counseling and systematic wellbeing lens. I also have done my PhD in LGBTQ themes and issues in schools looking at a lot of policy.
I also teach at George Washington university. We have an LGBTQ health policy and practice graduate program, so we work there with medical professionals, mental health clinicians and policy makers to design healthcare spaces that are better for LGBTQ people. So there’s an academic lens, a health lens, a counseling and wellbeing lens, and my experience in international schools as a student. And the last part, I’m queer so that also informs the way I think about this work. But I don't actually talk about my story much, I'm more interested in translating what we know from the research and best practice into the school community.
What does a safe space look like to you?
A safe space is a place where students can show up as their whole selves and feel a sense of belonging as they are. What would be the first space to create a safe space? I will say it’s really important to have leadership involved in this world. You can have teachers, students and people who believe in it, but if it’s not clear that the school as an institution supports it, there will be barriers, or at least, the perception of barriers. So I think that a lot of times for me, it’s understanding where the leadership stands and working from there.
What’s the difference between performing inclusion and actually implementing it?
At the end of the day, I’m accountable for the safe space of queer people in a school. They are not the ones who hire or pay me; that is who I feel accountable to. So a performative school will maybe do one workshop here, one workshop there and that’s it; but when I check in with the LGBTQ people, they’ll say ‘we’re not done’. That’s how you know that the deeper systemic change hasn’t happened.
In the perfect world, what would a school look like who’s been successful at creating systemic change; taking into account that there’s always room for improvement.
I would like for queer people to see themselves reflected positively in the curriculum. I want to see it embedded, where anyone who comes to the school understands that this will be an expectation that needs to be implemented into their classroom.
I want to see departments like HR having a better understanding of what it means to recruit in an inclusive way. I would like to see admissions, as an external facing department, what does it look like to welcome queer families into the school. I would want to see that queer people be celebrated, I want to see queer people in leadership…kind of looking at every facet of the school; not only on Pride Day or a single moment of the year. I want to see it everywhere.
In the same way that we can see straight people, straight joy, straight excellence, straight accomplishments throughout a school, we should also be able to see that through LGBTQ people.
What do you think is the potential of investing in inclusivity at both a global scale, but also at an individual scale? For a student, what difference can it make in their lives to be in a safe space to explore and also be their true selves?
On an individual level, unfortunately we have a really strong body of research that demonstrates the disproportionate risk the LGBTQ youth face for negative outcomes in wellbeing and safety. This is the sad part, but the hopeful part is that we know why these outcomes are so much higher in LGBTQ children;which is to do with the stigma, discrimination and marginalization within their environment.
We have quite a lot of research that shows that when we reduce the stigma, discrimination and marginalization of an environment, we can see a direct impact on student wellbeing. So when we do inclusion work (safety, belonging, equity) in a school, it can be a literal lifesaver for children. That’s the impact at the individual level.
At a global level, I would argue that inclusion work is beneficial even for straight kids. We talk about international schools as meant to cultivate global citizenship and this ability to interact with lots of different people; but if we avoid talking about queer issues, we’re doing a disservice to the students who are going to go out into the world and be expected to understand some of this. It’s important to empower educators to be able to have these in-depth conversations with children in an academic sphere rather than just on social media. It’s beneficial for the school in general, but of course we can see the individual impact significantly.