Monday, December 8, 2008
Safe Zones Created for LGBTQ Students
A new volunteer training program equips trained Safe Zone "allies" with tools to assist lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.
Counseling & Psychological Services Carrie Sakai shows she's an ally with a Safe Zones designation.
This fall, SDSU Safe Zones held its first ally training session, educating a cohort of 30 faculty, staff and students about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) issues.
The new volunteer training program equips trained Safe Zone "allies" with tools to guide students and others to campus and community resources.
According to Aaron Bruce, SDSU director of diversity, Safe Zones is one of several diversity initiatives supported by the President's Leadership Fund.
"Supporting diversity and social justice is part of the shared vision of the university," Bruce said. "Creating safe and welcoming environments for all members of our campus, requires us all to be informed and exemplary professionals. We're creating a safer environment not only for our students, but for our colleagues as well."
The program's coordinators, Susan Cayleff, Women's Studies professor, and Counseling & Psychological Services psychologist Carrie Sakai, agree this program and the increase of allies on campus is particularly vital to students'" academic and personal growth.
"College is the time for individual development," Sakai said. "In order to create a climate on campus that is conducive to learning, students need to feel safe. For an invisible minority, it’s very important they know we are here – visibly – supporting them."
Cayleff echoed this sentiment, detailing how interactions in the classroom affect students' perceptions long after class is over.
"Faculty play a crucial role, as they are among the first contacts students will make to discuss issues of concern to them," she said. "At times, classroom content and dialogue often ignore, or worse yet, belittle LGBTQ individuals and fail to include scholarship related to them."
Cayleff advised implementing Safe Zone communication skills in the classroom to mitigate cultural homophobia and issues of self-esteem among LGBTQ students.
"When I first came here as a student, there was only the LGBT (student organization). Outside of that, there was no one I felt I could really ask, talk to on campus," said Ben Cartwright, SDSU alumnus and Associated Students staff member. "I’m so glad the faculty/staff moved forward with this program."
Fast-forward 10 years, and initiatives such as Safe Zones, an academic minor in LGBT Studies, a LGBT Aztec Alumni Chapter, and the volunteer-run Pride Resource Office, continue to help the campus community build upon and embrace the diversity of SDSU.
"We're in the process of doing much more for our LGBTQ community," said Bruce, citing the launch of a diversity website, LGBTQ college fair and scholarships to name a few.
"Our goal is to have Safe Zones become a very visible campus wide program," Sakai said.
Cayleff added, "In five years, I would like to see Safe Zones firmly embedded in all orientations for faculty, students and staff during recruitment days. An ideal five-year plan would make Safe Zones an embraced, crucial and respected program by our entire campus community."
Become an ally
Coordinators advise that part of being an ally is a willingness to be a visible resource. Display of the Safe Zones symbol designates a place or person who can:
- Guide campus members to resources and referrals
- Answer questions
- Provide temporary support until ongoing services are secured
Participation is absolutely voluntary, and training sessions can be tailored to a participant's needs.
All interested participants can visit the Safe Zones website to learn about upcoming training sessions. Participants may sign up individually or as a group/department.
For those interested and available over winter break, a training session is scheduled for January.