Photo courtesy of the Safe Zone Committee.
Ready to get out of your lane and your comfort zone? Safe Zone is helping the SAU community learn something new to support the people around them.
“When you know better you do better,” Dr. Sarah Eikleberry, Safe Zone Chair, said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a trainer, developer, or a newbie, you will learn something new about yourself and your colleagues.”
The Safe Zone committee holds training sessions on an ever-changing variety of topics such as gender identity, sexual orientation and heteronormativity. These concepts are explained and explored, and participants are given the opportunity to examine real-world scenarios in guided small group discussions.
These sessions are open to anyone—faculty, staff, students or otherwise—and everyone is encouraged to attend.
“I think it’s important for faculty to be involved, so students have a safe place to go to,” Dr. Brett Billman, Safe Zone committee member, said. “But it takes a lot of work, and I want to be a part of it.”
Regardless of whether or not you attend the training, anyone can take the Safe Zone Pledge. The pledge requires that you commit yourself to actively working towards things like learning more about LGBTQ+ concerns, unlearning false beliefs or oppressive attitudes and advocate for the rights of students to grow in a safe environment.
“I’m really proud that roughly one-third of employees here have already taken the pledge,” Dr. Eikleberry said.
But the pledge does not ask you to be perfect. In fact, it has you give yourself permission to be imperfect in regards to homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia. It doesn’t expect you to know all the answers, or act perfectly in every situation, it just expects you to ask.
After taking this pledge, participants are given a Safe Zone sign to hang on their door, indicating that they themselves and their space is safe for everyone.
“I’ve learned so much from my students and I’m so privileged to be a part of this community-centered around students,” Dr. Dale Blesz, Safe Zone committee member, said. “There’s a joy in doing this hard work, I’m privileged to be a part of this.”
Dr. Blesz has been a Safe Zone committee member since its inception around 2013. He believes that DEI efforts on campus have to include everyone, and that Safe Zone helps serve as a reminder of SAU’s policies.
“The university is really pushing for inclusion, so it’s important that we have resources available and systems in place,” Dr. Billman said. “There’s work to be done, and it’s not going to do itself.”
Safe Zone training and the pledge is for everyone, no matter how far along you are in your advocacy journey.
“In order to be an advocate, we must commit to a lifelong journey,” Dr. Dale Broder, Safe Zone committee member said. “For example, I am quite familiar with the topics we discussed in the most recent Safe Zone training as well as the recent Inclusive Leadership by Dr. Florence Holland, but I learned something new in both of those sessions.”
Even if you’re a DEI expert, or a member of the LGBTQ+ yourself, there’s something new to learn.
“I don’t just learn something from the presenter; I almost always learn something new from an attendee,” Dr. Broder said. “No matter where you are on your DEI journey, there is always room to grow.”
But there is still two-thirds of the employee base yet to take the pledge, with a variety of reasons holding them back.
“The biggest limitation is always time,” Dr. Broder said. “We are asked to do an incredible amount of work as faculty, staff, and students. It is very difficult to make time for things that ‘don’t count.’ We do not ‘get credit’ for attending these types of events, and the people leading them are volunteers.”
Dr. Broder doesn’t anticipate this changing until institutions prioritize LGBTQ+ education opportunities.
“There are so many reasons people may not do safe zone training, but the most prevalent reasons I have seen are fear of learning something that requires change, bigotry, or lack of access to the training,” Krystyna Kaminski, graduate student and Safe Zone presenter said.
Some big reasons multiple Safe Zone committee members have cited is that people are concerned that they will learn something that will require them to change in some way, and that scares them away, or ] they don’t think anything they could learn will apply to them.
“This work can be uncomfortable, but that’s how you know it’s working,” Dr. Billman said. Safe Zone can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.