Safe Zone builds campus alliance

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By Hannah Griffin, News Editior

Illinois Wesleyan University recently amended its anti-discrimination statement to include “gender identity and expression.”

But while the University formally prohibits discrimination towards members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community, many still feel the environment on campus is unaccepting of these sexual orientations.

To address this issue, Director of Multicultural Affairs Roshaunda Ross announced the return of the Safe Zone program in the fall of 2010.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Illinois Wesleyan University Safe Zone Committee will host two Level-1 Safe Zone training sessions on Wednesday, Jan. 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Davidson Room.

These sessions promote the program’s purpose of educating community members about sexual orientation, gender identity and how to be an ally to members of the LGBT community.

For Ross, the goal is an important one. “Every community that claims to be inclusive, that claims to care about diversity and to care about its members, should have a Safe Zone Program,” she said.

While Safe Zone teaches IWU community members how to be an ally, it also seeks to alter the campus environment by making these allies physically visible. After Level-1 training, the program provides members with decals featuring the Safe Zone logo.

According to Ross, the faculty, students and staff who display their decals provide a visible answer to questions that LGBT students and allies may be asking: Who can I talk to? Who can I be open around? Who can I feel safe around? Who is my ally?

Recent research shows that LGBT students feel more marginalized than heterosexual students.

According to the 2010 Campus Climate Survey, administered by the University Council for Diversity, IWU students who identified as heterosexual were more likely to agree with the statement “I experience a sense of community at IWU” than were students who identified as “other.”

“I have talked to students who agree that seeing the rainbow stickers or the Safe Zone logo stickers does make them feel less isolated,” said senior Alex Shockey, IWU Pride Alliance Co-President. “In a sense it provides confirmation that there are people on campus who are willing to talk to someone about a problem that may be LGBT+ specific, without judgment.”

LGBT+, Schockey explained, stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender plus other sexual orientations that may exist. An introduction to this terminology and discussion of how to be supportive are some topics that will be examined at Wednesday’s sessions.

“Level-1 also addresses the reality of the suicide rate and homelessness rate in the LGBT+ community, which many people do not realize is as high as it is,” Shockey said.
Shockey added that Safe Zone provides “first-hand accounts from LGBT+ people about coming out, acceptance and their personal journey to the realization and acceptance of their own identity.”

Level-2 training is scheduled to take place in March. According to Shockey, it will hit “harder subjects” like transphobia, discrimination and the transitioning process.

All Safe Zone training works toward the goal of creating a more accepting campus environment by teaching people how to be allies and by letting members of the LGBT community know those allies are out there.

“Participating in Safe Zone trainings allows me to become a more respectful, considerate and engaged community member,” said Matthew Damschroder, Assistant Dean of Students for Campus Life. “Just having this group can signal to prospective or current students that they are valued here—for every aspect of themselves, including those that may be hard to share or to articulate.”