As the content covered within the Human Relations program is often new and sensitive, is important to reinforce that we do not intend to challenge students’ cultural, religious or family beliefs. Rather, we want to provide students with factual information and an opportunity to engage with these ideas in a safe, trusting space before entering mainstream schooling.
Students should be encouraged to discuss the program material within their cultural context. Facilitators can encourage such discussion by asking questions such as:
- What have you been taught about having babies?
- Does your family discuss menstruation?
- What is the word for puberty in your language?
Reducing student anxiety
Facilitators create a safe and trusting environment by:
- Promoting a fun, safe and respectful environment
- Involving teachers, aides and interpreters in interactive activities
- Providing a ‘content warning’ about sensitive topics to be covered that week (such as abortion or abuse)
- Encouraging students to ask questions (either within the class or afterwards via their trusted teacher)
Avoiding heteronormative language and stereotypes
Heteronormativity is the ‘assumption that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm… that sexual relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes’. Heteronormative language, whilst often considered a ‘standard’ way to describe relationships (e.g. ‘your boyfriend/ girlfriend’), can be exclusionary to same sex-attracted and questioning individuals, especially young people. In this program, efforts are made not to assume sexual identity and to openly encourage discussion on sexual diversity.
There are situations when facilitators will talk exclusively about heterosexual relationships and sex – this relates to pregnancy scenarios and pregnancy options. When discussing respectful relationships, life goals and safe sexual practice, the program represents a range of diverse relationships.
The program also makes a conscious effort not to perpetuate gender stereotypes while acknowledging that rigid gender roles may be normalised and common among a lot of cultural groups represented in these classrooms. Part of the Human Relations program is to inform young women about their rights and options relating to education, respectful relationships, sexual health and life goals.
It is important that a strategy is designed prior to the sessions relating to managing and responding to young people’s disclosures. At the beginning of each session, facilitators articulate to participants who they can access if they require further support and the process for following up with student concerns or disclosures.