Special issue


As minorities, people of diverse sexual orientations and genders often feel that they do not belong within higher education. To combat this, connection is important, but that can be difficult in the uncertain, predominantly online world of universities. The Ally Program is a university-wide, extra-curricular online training program aimed at creating connection for LGBTIQ+ students and staff. This paper presents a critically reflective autoethnographic study of my 12 years of experience in developing the Ally Program through the writing and analysis of four creative narratives. These narratives centre on the epiphanies I had as a trainer that led to significant refinements of the training. Using borderlands discourse as my theoretical framework, I demonstrate how my own sense of belonging developed and how that enabled me to create a safe space for participants in the program to feel a sense of belonging and share this with the wider university community. I further explain the teaching model I have created, drawing on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development as a pedagogical framework to promote meaningful, engaged learning in the borderlands. I show how these frameworks intertwine to enable participants to embrace uncertainty, allowing for learning to evolve over time and space, and ultimately fostering a sense of belonging for all LGBTIQ+ students and staff. This model of teaching for belonging is useful across many different learning environments to embrace diversity and encourage belonging.

Practitioner Notes

  1. People of diverse sexual orientations and genders often feel excluded in educational settings due to discrimination and lack of visibility, so specific training programs around this diversity are needed, incorporating a wide range of identities.
  2. Critically reflexive, narrative autoethnography provides a way to present stories as data where it is important to deeply explore individual experiences and social interactions and their impact on teaching programs.
  3. For training programs around sexual orientation and gender diversity to be successful, it is vital that trainers have a sense of belonging themselves, foster a sense of belonging for all participants, and can help participants pay that forward to the wider community.
  4. Borderlands discourse provides a useful theoretical framework to examine difference, especially where there may be a sense of disconnect between two apparent ‘sides’.
  5. The Zone of Proximal Development provides a foundation for an effective pedagogy for teaching in the ‘borderlands’ space of diverse gender and sexual identities, when implemented in specific ways.