Lulu Frisson portrait

Written by Lulu Frisson

Lulu Frisson is a 15-year-old secondary school student from Birmingham.

“But who benefits from all this stuff on inclusion and diversity at school? Do students actually care?” 

My dad leans over the table, eyes bright, his questions hanging in the air between us. Both of my parents are teachers and occasionally conversations like these – about anti-discrimination work within education – will crop up at the family dinner table. Truthfully, I find it fascinating. I tick a lot of diversity boxes myself as a biracial, bisexual, autistic teen girl. I often think about my identity and how schools can be more accepting of students from minority groups, but conversations with my parents about diversity in education make me realise that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to creating inclusive learning environments.   

I often think of the awful murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 and the subsequent international Black Lives Matter protests as the sort of ‘explosive’ point for anti-discrimination work in schools and workplaces. In my mum’s primary school, the sudden heightened awareness around race within white spaces began igniting conversations around the lack of diversity in children’s books. In my own school, students began demanding change – to the curriculum, to the teaching staff, to the extracurricular clubs on offer – and we were largely listened to, encouraged to recognise and speak out against injustice. To answer my dad’s question – students undoubtedly cared about improving diversity and inclusion. And we absolutely do still care.   

And yet the contrast between pupils’ anger about social injustice in summer 2020 and our current vocal demand for change is stark, and it’s something that needs to be addressed if schools wish to continue making meaningful progress with diversity and inclusion. Our reaction to the horrifying events of that summer was loud, passionate and angry because being loud, passionate and angry is often the quickest way to drive change. Now, having seen some positive changes implemented in my own school – the creation of an annual Culture Week, for example, and the increased awareness around the texts we study – I think a lot of us have stopped talking about diversity and inclusion simply because we’ve come to believe that those changes may be the most our school is able or willing to make.  

But schools can’t let the conversation die down. Students who are part of minority groups still experience discrimination regularly – so much so that I believe we’ve become somewhat de-sensitised to it. I’ve noticed that my classmates from minority groups often brush off or downplay personal incidences of discrimination, and it’s something I find myself doing too. If a teacher jokes about how ‘exotic’ I am, my immediate reaction is usually to laugh it off. If a classmate makes an ignorant comment about autism, or someone tells me that bisexuality does not exist, I tend to excuse them through a hopeful lens of forgiveness.  

What this really shows it that there’s still a certain expectation for LGBTQ pupils and students of colour to extend endless grace and compassion to classmates or even teachers who offend us; from as young as primary school, we’re often told to ‘be the bigger person’ when it comes to conflict, or to stay quiet and not cause a fuss. As a result, a lot of comments we hear that would absolutely be considered discriminatory get unreported in schools, brushed off as insignificant or normalised – with inevitably damaging impacts on student mental health.  

That’s why diversity and inclusion work within school is so important. I remember listening to an assembly about microaggressions and realising that it was okay to feel hurt and uncomfortable by comments a lot of us students have come to excuse as banter, curiosity or ignorance. The simple acknowledgement that discrimination exists in forms other than outright abuse was so impactful, and I left that assembly feeling like my identity, and the struggles I’ve faced surrounding it, are valid. My parents sometimes talk about how it is ultimately up to policy makers to improve our schools and the culture created in them. And whilst longer term national change towards promoting equality in education is incredibly important, I’d argue that smaller immediate actions towards inclusivity can be just as meaningful. 

For students who use different pronouns, for example, inclusivity might mean having teachers who respect and actively try to use gender neutral language in their classrooms. For me personally as an autistic student, inclusivity has meant being able to access things like fidget toys and a time out card, and receiving pastoral support in school. More broadly as an LGBTQ biracial person, I’ve felt most included and safe in lessons that include perspectives and examples of people from all backgrounds. If a teacher uses a case study of a same sex couple in biology class, for example, I’ll know that they’re accepting of LGBTQ people, and by extension accepting of me. It may sound trivial, but it often really is small actions that make the biggest difference.   

So yes, students do care about diversity and inclusion. We notice the changes being made – or lack thereof – to our schools more than we might let on. Many students from minority groups naturally care deeply about continuing and improving our work on inclusivity, but the truth is that everybody, staff and students alike, need to too. To have the ability to not care about inclusion is undeniably a privilege. To be able to think about diversity solely at times that suit you, to be aware of inequality only when it is pointed out, to be oblivious to the fact that you are amongst the majority in the spaces you occupy – these are privileges that people from marginalised communities are persistently denied.  

So it is not enough for allies to say they do not see colour, do not care about sexuality or do not think about gender. And, to extend on that, it is not enough for schools to hear minority students’ struggles or uplift our voices only at times that are convenient. Regardless of whether it’s Black History Month, Pride Month or a time like the summer of 2020, schools need to continue to actively listen to students from marginalised communities and be receptive to our suggestions – not only to create more diverse learning environments, but safer ones, too. We do not have the ability to leave aspects of our identity behind when we come to school, and we shouldn’t have to, either.