Gender Justice in Teaching


What is gender-just teaching? 

Gender-just teaching, or teaching that seeks to advance gender justice, draws on feminist and transgender educational frameworks that center the experiences of students marginalized on the basis of gender. This includes women, transgender people, nonbinary/agender/genderqueer people, and people otherwise perceived as gender-nonconforming. Above all, a gender justice approach to teaching celebrates the unique knowledges that students oppressed under genderism bring to educational spaces and foregrounds their success and thriving therein

Societally, gender operates at multiple levels, from the personal to the cultural to the institutional. The personal level, for instance, has to do with one’s own gender identity and expression. At the cultural level are norms and ideologies, such as patriarchy, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, and gender conformity. These constructs are also embedded within institutions, such as schooling, and often contribute to our socialization around gender. 

Within higher education, gender-based oppression often manifests in policy and in the built environment of university campuses. Think, for instance, of sex-separated restrooms, which fail to account for the safety and belonging of trans, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming people. However, this oppression can also extend into classroom spaces, where gender identities and experiences outside the bounds of cisgender, patriarchal norms are often illegible to cisgender people. 

In order to counteract the psychosocial and material harms caused by gender-based oppression in the university, it is crucial to reflect on how, as instructors, we can create safer classroom environments that not only consider but uplift and celebrate the knowledge and experiences that students oppressed under genderism bring with them.

Starting Point for Growth: Self-Reflection & Awareness

One great way to start thinking about gender justice is to reflect on how our own biases may manifest in our teaching. This can be done at ANY stage of teaching! To better understand your own implicit gender-based biases in a safe, private, and nonjudgmental environment, consider taking advantage of Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Tests, particularly:

  • Transgender Bias Test

  • Gender & Career Bias Test

  • Gender & Science Bias Test 

Before Teaching

As you design your course(s), think about where gender may play a role in both the course content you present and in the dynamics of your classroom environment. Below are several reflection questions and example cases from different fields that you can apply to your own course design.

Does your syllabus represent the scholarly contributions of multiple genders? If you’re teaching any sort of historical, theoretical, or methodological overview course, then you’re likely to have a syllabus containing a range of works by eminent scholars in your field. Who is included in this list can affect how your students may engage with the courseworkparticularly if there is deep asymmetry between the diversity of your syllabus and the diversity of your class demographics. See the below “case studies” to jumpstart your thinking about how to foster more gender equity in your own course bibliography:

  • Imagine you’re teaching a course on the History of Medicine in the United States: how well-represented are the medical contributions of women in this syllabus? What about medical scholarship that examines health issues associated with women? In this vein, Cognitive scientist Dr. Pooja Agarwal shares a guide to celebrating women in STEM by citing women in STEM.

  • Imagine you’re teaching a literature course on Contemporary Lesbian Fiction. Do the authors represented in your syllabus include, for instance, nonbinary lesbian authors as well as cisgender women? How does the range of authors included complicate or reify binary conceptions of gender? 

How might your course content, or the skills you teach therein, complicate essentialist notions of gender? In addition to the scholarship you draw from in your course, the content and skills instruction included can also mediate how your students, notably those oppressed under genderism, may engage with it. 

  • Imagine you’re teaching a Human Biology course. How might you address or complicate the concept of ‘biological sex’ as it relates to the medical construct of ‘sex assigned at birth’? High school biology instructor Elizabeth Hobbes explores this in her commentary, Transgender Perspectives in the Biology Classroom.

  • Imagine you’re teaching an introductory French language course. How might you address the way that gender is embedded into the grammar being taught in the course? Applied linguist Dr. Kris Knisely shares strategies for trans-affirming language pedagogy that can be applied across languages that use binary grammatical gender.

How might you cultivate a classroom environment and dynamic that affords students of all genders a sense of belonging? No matter your discipline, below are some suggestions for fostering a classroom environment that is inclusive of nonbinary, agender, genderqueer, or otherwise gender nonconforming students: 

  • As it becomes increasingly normal to start class introductions with names and pronounsconsider how you go about affording this option to students:

    • Instructor and scholar of applied linguistics Dr. Kris Knisely offers concrete suggestions for how to offer students the space to share their pronouns if and when they are comfortable doing so. 

    • Rachel N. Levin, Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, explains why a direct ask for students’ gender pronouns may actually be less inclusive than one might think. 

Beyond pronouns, cultivating a welcoming class environment for your trans students can also include sharing practical resources, such as information about where gender-neutral restrooms are located, where/how students can access trans-affirming healthcareand what spaces or student groups exist for trans students seeking community and support. Similarly, you might share resources for things such as reproductive justice for any of your students who may need them. Some sample syllabus language for you to adapt to your own course context is included below.

Sample syllabus language to share gender equity resources

As your instructor, I hold the classroom as a space for self-exploration and community building, and I hope this course can be a welcoming environment for you all. To that end, I am sharing some resources here that may be useful to our classroom community and beyond.

During Teaching

The classroom environment can also be a space for fostering gender equity and justice. Below are some suggestions for cultivating a classroom environment that respects and celebrates gender diversity and uplifts the perspectives of those oppressed under genderism.

  • Using gender-inclusive and affirming language in the classroom can make students feel safe and welcome in your class. While language norms are ever-changing, making an effort to avoid language that reinforces binary thinking or gender stereotypes can go a long way in fostering belonging. 

    • EDUCAUSE has a guide to inclusive language spanning multiple dimensions of identity, including gender-inclusive language. 

    • Similarly, Berkeley’s own Gender Equity Resource Center provides a list of increasingly common terminology relating to gender identity and expression, as well as a tip sheet for avoiding exclusionary or othering language. 

  • Destabilizing gender hierarchies include actions like demystifying parts of the ‘hidden curriculum’ that disadvantage gender minorities and their learning
    • Rush (2021) suggests the following concrete considerations: “Plan to be as transparent as possible about privileges and barriers that influence the construction of your course and discipline. Additionally, be mindful of your own patterns for facilitating conversation, recognizing contributions or guiding activities in the classroom that can reinforce gender bias: Which students are you most likely to call on for answers? Whose contributions are praised and whose ideas are pursued?” 

After Teaching

Want to read more about how instructors are tackling gender inequity in their teaching? Many of the recommendations on this page are excerpted from the works below:

If you are interested in diving deeper into gender justice on the Berkeley campus, UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center offers a wealth of information about issues of gender (in)justice that you may wish to incorporate into your teaching approach, as well as resources you can share with your students:

Reference List

Agarwal, P. K. (2023). Celebrate women in STEM by citing women in STEM.

Dotson, K. (2011). Tracking epistemic violence, tracking practices of silencing. Hypatia, 26(2), 236–257.

Hobbes, E. (2020). Transgender Perspectives in the Biology Classroom. Science Teacher, 87 (7), 22-25.

Kean, E. (2021). Advancing a critical trans framework for education. Curriculum Inquiry, 51(2), 261-286.

Keenan, H. B. (2017). Unscripting curriculum: Toward a critical trans pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 87(4), 538–556.

Knisely, K. A. (2023). Gender-justice beyond inclusion: How trans knowledges and linguistic practices can and should be re-shaping language education. The Modern Language Journal, 107, 607-623.

Knisely, K. A., & Paiz, J. M. (2021). Bringing trans, non-binary, and queer understandings to bear in language education. Critical Multilingualism Studies, 9, 23–45. 

Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., & Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation's Schools. A Report from GLSEN. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). 121 West 27th Street Suite 804, New York, NY 10001. 

Lee, J. J., & Mccabe, J. M. (2021). Who speaks and who listens: Revisiting the chilly climate in college classrooms. Gender & Society, 35(1), 32-60. 

Miyake, A., Kost-Smith, L. E., Finkelstein, N. D., Pollock, S. J., Cohen, G. L., & Ito, T. A. (2010). Reducing the gender achievement gap in college science: A classroom study of values affirmation. Science, 330(6008), 1234-1237. 

Rush, J. (2021). TEACHING AT PITT: Ways to bring a dynamic understanding of gender into your class. University Times, 53(14). University of Pittsburgh. 

Seelman, K. L. (2014). Recommendations of transgender students, staff, and faculty in the USA for improving college campuses. Gender and Education, 26(6), 618-635.

Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 34, pp. 379-440). Academic Press.