12 August 2022

Q+A: Dr Mark Yarrow on the LGBT+ Student Group

In Autumn 2020, the School of Mathematics and Statistics created a new LGBT+ Student Group. Its founder, Dr Mark Yarrow, explains more.

A rainbow pride banner hanging from a pole, which reads, "An LGBT+ inclusive university".

What made you decide to set up the LGBT+ student group?

At age 17, I remember the arduous job of searching for a university to apply to without really knowing where to start or what I was looking for. What I did know for sure is putting a large weighting on the institution's LGBT+ footprint. Similar to how a student might want a top sports facility to train in or a diverse collection of clubs to join, I wanted the university I attended to demonstrate excellent attitudes towards LGBT+ people. This was to ensure I would be safe and supported in being who I am at University. As a young and relatively new member of staff in the School of Mathematics and Statistics, I wanted to set up the group in my department which I would have liked to join when I was starting as an undergraduate back in 2014. 

Though the primary reason for this group is to support students during their time in the School, an important part of this group is to indicate to parents and guardians of current and incoming students that their LGBT+ children are going to be well supported throughout their time here. We are fully aware that the time their child moves to University can be particularly challenging for parents as well as students. We hope that the existence of this group can reduce this stress for parents of LGBT+ people. 

How is it going so far? What sort of things have you been doing?

During the first 18 months, the group was mainly focussed on the student support angle because of the pandemic. This group had regular online catch ups and one-to-one check ins. Coming out of the pandemic, the group has transitioned into a vessel whereby students can voice concerns, seek confidential advice, and be directed to services on offer in and around the University. In addition, this group has become one in which we advertise opportunities, typical application deadline information, and support applications where possible. These include: summer internships, paid research projects, and graduate job opportunities. 

An initiative which began in 2021 which I am involved in is the newly formed LGBT+ STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) group based in the Students’ Union. This group brings together LGBT+ students from STEM backgrounds to support them in more general, but still focussed, activities. We hope that this group will facilitate a bridge between LGBT+ STEM students and staff in the University as a way to support the next generation of scientists and engineers.

What do you want the LGBT+ student group to accomplish in the longer term?

Sheffield’s School of Mathematics and Statistics and the wider University in general is a wonderfully inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone who works and studies here. I would like more students to feel comfortable to be themselves in what is effectively their place of work for a sizable portion of their early adult life. 

Longer term, I want to increase the number of LGBT+ mathematicians and statisticians moving into prominent industry leadership roles as well as continuing into academic teaching and/ or research positions. To do this, we need to equip our undergraduates with the skills they need and the confidence to go for opportunities. In doing this we will solidify the University of Sheffield and specifically the School of Mathematics and Statistics as a beacon of good practice in LGBT+ inclusion and support. 

Why is it important for a maths department to have a group like this?

The staff in the School of Mathematics and Statistics are committed to facilitating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all who enjoy the mathematical sciences. I believe that visibility is key to ensuring this goal is met. I make a point to not hide any part of who I am because I think it is important for all students to see out and proud LGBT+ members of staff just as it is important to see diversity in other areas such as ethnicity, gender and disability. It is now common to have other support groups, such as for female early career researchers and other peer support networks. It is less common to see LGBT+ groups like the one we have in the School. I set up this group because I would rather Sheffield be leading the industry than following on important initiatives like these. I hope groups like this become more common over the next decade at other institutions as they follow in our footsteps.