Inclusion Within Our Schools

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Canadian Schools

By Sarah Dickson

As we discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion more and more we should look at the students in our school systems and ask ourselves whether they feel safe and included in their schools. This article looks at the opinions of the community voiced through the third Future is Broken panel discussion. It also conducts studies within Canadian high schools and gives a glimpse at what school environments are like when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is clear that BIPOC* and LGBTQ students get less support from schools. This causes them to feel unsafe.

*Black and Indigenious People of Colour

There is a notable difference in graduation, detention, and expulsion rates between BIPOC students and white students. The difference shows that BIPOC students are not receiving what they need in order to succeed in today’s school systems. They do not receive the same help and resources available to other students. Whenever support is offered it is not accessible enough. Moreover, LGBTQ students in school often face hostile environments that disconnect them from their schools. A Canadian study from 2011 showed that the majority of LGBTQ students face hostility in school. Around 70% of students report hearing homophobic language like “thats so gay” everyday at school, and what even more concerning is that 47.5% of students report hearing homophobic slurs everyday. It is sad to see that LGBTQ students do not have a safe school environment. Harassment in classrooms affects students by weakening their attachment to school. Students skip school, feel depressed towards school and withdraw themselves socially.


Unfortunately Canadian schools do not have a good reputation for taking action against discrimination in the classroom. LGBTQ students reported that their teachers continuously failed to intervene when homophobic harassment occurred in their presence. A third of LGBTQ students said that their teachers never intervened when homophobic harassment happened in front of them. The two thirds of students who actually reported teachers addressing harassment, deemed them ineffective. If students don’t expect their teachers to intervene in discriminatory harassment happening before their own eyes students will cannot feel safe in schools. We can help LGBTQ students begin to feel safe in their schools by educating teachers how to approach discrimination and harassment. Teachers can be made more aware of anti harassment policies that can help them take action against discrimination in the classroom. Teachers can also be taught how to regulate their emotions and handle serious topics like diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom. 

Currently, teachers are predominantly ineffective at handling topics of harassment and inequality in schools because they may not be well equipped to do so. When discussing inequality a person from a privileged group may have difficulty in these conversations due to feelings of shame and guilt which arise. When unregulated these emotions lead to a disconnect. This completely shuts down the conversation. With the conversation shut down no responsibility or change happens, resulting in students in need receiving zero help. Teachers should learn how to regulate these emotions so that they feel comfortable in leading these discussions. Until teachers feel comfortable discussing difficult topics like equity diversity and harassment they won’t be much help to students who struggle everyday. 

A lack of knowledge of support and policies also contributes to the absence of teachers speaking against discrimination in schools. School policies around harassment and discrimination are unclear and inconsistent. Teachers are confused about what policies to follow including what actions they are allowed to take against discrimination, and what kind of support the school board offers. A teacher cannot take action again discriminatory behaviour if they don’t know they have the support of the school behind them. Teachers will not stand up for students because they do not know whether they themselves will get into trouble for doing so. Additionally, teachers need to know proper disciplinary procedures, and have appropriate options, in order to discipline students for discriminatory behaviour. The more clear these procedures are within the school board, the more comfortable teachers will become with addressing discrimination in schools, and the more comfortable kids will be within schools. 

Policies and support for marginalized groups in schools today are made unclear to students. For the schools that actually have anti harassment policies, just a third of students know they exist. Today’s students are not granted equitable services which are meant to help them. Confusing processes for these services deter marginalized groups away from help. In essence these systems are designed very poorly and made extremely confusing to students. Schools may see no problem since no students are able to complete the process in receiving aid. Moreover, schools are not actively trying to help their students.

There is data showing that anti Harassment policies can help improve school environments when they are effectively implemented. A study completed in Canada found that straight teachers who taught in a school with anti LGBTQ harassment policies felt more comfortable raising and protecting LGBTQ rights in the classroom than teachers in school that did not have these policies. 

Big steps still need to be made in terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our classrooms. BIPOC students are still lacking the support they need, and LGBTQ students continue to feel unsafe in schools. Teachers are ill equipped to properly handle discussions of diversity, equity, and race within the classroom. Most policies we already have in place surrounding discrimination in schools are unclear. Teachers will not take action against harassment because they don’t know if they have the support to do so. To see change in schools we must be educating teachers about diversity, equity, and inclusion and how to speak about it with students. Teachers also need to know how to handle their own emotions before they can effectively regulate these conversations in a classroom and help students facing discrimination in schools. We need to set clear school policies on harassment so that teachers can take proper action against discrimination when it does happen 


Taylor, C.G. et al. (2016) Gaps between beliefs, perceptions, and practices: The Every Teacher Project on LGBTQ-inclusive education in Canadian schools, Taylor & Francis Online . Journal of LGBTQ Youth. Available at: