When class is in session, faculty and students are opposite sides of the room. However, thanks to the SafeZone program they can come together to make campus a safe environment for everyone.
The SafeZone program is an initiative through the Campaign for Nonviolence. The program’s main mission is to help individuals easily identify persons, programs and services that have made a special commitment to equality. These “Safe Zones,” represented by a sticker or keychain with a pink inverted triangle inside of a green circle, are a safe haven for individuals who are facing homophobia, hateful acts or sexual violence.
“The ally program is an integral part of campus,” said Brandon Haddock, student services coordinator at the K-State LGBT Resource Center. “It has helped change the climate of campus because individuals know that they have someone to talk to.”
Faculty members and students were in attendance at SafeZone’s third education session of the year. The two hour education session held yesterday, titled “Sexuality and Gender Identity,” was held in the K-State Student Union, focused on helping individuals on campus who are facing issues revolving around their sexuality.
Haddock guided a group of about 30 men and women through a lesson intended to helped them gain a better understanding of the issues faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals on campus.
“If you aren’t informed, you won’t understand what they are dealing with,” Haddock said, stressing the importance of understanding what sexuality and gender identity mean.
What if scenarios were used to give the participants guidance on creating a more open and affirming environment when they are approached by a LGBT individual.
The event was attended by a wide range of individuals. According to Haddock, the SafeZone program sees a broad spectrum of participants, from staff to students to interested Manhattan community members.
According to Haddock, attendees are mostly individuals who see a need or are personally affected in some way and want to help. The attendance list showed a great variety in staff from the various K-State academic programs.
Linda Lamb, the program coordinator for an extension of the family and consumer sciences department, has been an active ally for over a year and continues to do so through these education events.
“Not everyone fits into a little box,” Lamb said. “I believe that everybody should be able to be who they are and have their own voice.”
Karen Myers-Bowman, Ph.D., Certified Family Life Educator and a family sciences and human services faculty member, has also been a longtime ally for the program. Myers-Bowman said she strongly believes in the importance of the work done by the SafeZone program and has been able to apply it to situations she faces as a Certified Family Life Educator. She said she has students approach her for help with various things, sexuality issues included.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe,” Myers-Bowman said. “Everyone on campus should be safe.”
The title of SafeZone ally is not just for faculty members, but students as well. Felicia Walker, junior in animal sciences and industry and residential assistant for Boyd resident hall, said she has both a personal and occupational development interest in the program.
“Inclusiveness is my thing,” Walker said.
Walker said she uses the knowledge she gains from SafeZone sessions to develop what she termed “forward thinking,” the idea that knowing more information will allow her to respond to situations more effectively. This is important when it comes to her job as a residential assistant. The SafeZone sessions have helped educate Walker on how to deal with situations she may face in the residential hall.
As the participants prepared to leave the session, they walked away with much more than just the information that they learned. Walker was inspired by the attitude that she saw in the group.
“Honestly … the best part was seeing the passion from the faculty and staff,” Walker said. “They were all so open and willing to speak up. It was nice to see them wanting more education and the opportunity to support their students,”
Everyone is invited to become an ally through a very simple process which is outlined on the program’s website, k-state.edu/safezone. Lamb said she is hopeful for the success and safety of the LGBT community, especially with the help of the SafeZone program.
“We can conquer the world,” Lamb said. “It is a long process, but we can take these baby steps to get there.”