News Editor, The Pendulum
The proposal to implement a Safe Zone program at Elon University was recently approved and may start this fall.
Safe Zone, which is already popular on many other college campuses, is designed to support members of the LGBTQ community on campus by providing training to faculty and staff members.
Currently in its planning stages, the program was proposed by Ann Cahill, chair of the Department of Philosophy and Leigh-Anne Royster, coordinator for personal health programs and community well-being.
A specific format for training and marketing has not yet been defined, but traditional programs have involved giving trained faculty members some form of identification, such as a pin, plaque or sticker.
“If a student had questions, were writing a paper, were exploring something personally, were in a same- sex relationship, something like that, then they could feel confident in knowing what kind of training that person had,”Royster said.
Participation in the program will be voluntary and it has not yet been determined whether students who want training will be able to be accommodated. Members of the Elon community will be able to take advantage of specialists to discuss topics relating to the LGBTQ community.
“The presence of a Safe Zone program speaks a commitment on behalf of the institution,” Cahill said, adding that such a program would demonstrate Elon’s dedication to treating all students equally.
College campuses are often categorized with positive, null or hostile climates toward LGBTQ issues. Alhough Elon has not experienced a great deal of violence or discrimination toward LGBTQ students, Cahill noted there is also little celebration of gender and sexuality diversity, meaning Elon has a null, or neutral, climate. Studies have shown that LGBTQ students’ perception of null campuses is not much different from their perception of those that are hostile.
Safe Zone has the potential to make Elon a more LGBTQ–friendly campus because it may persuade some closeted students to come out, Cahill said.
On campuses where more students are open about their sexuality and gender identification, other students tend to have much more open attitudes toward the LGBTQ community. In turn, more students will come out, ending a vicious cycle.
“Outing is very personal,” Cahill said. “You cannot be fully–fledged as a member of the community when a huge part of your identity remains secret.”
While Royster and Cahill both said there was little explicit opposition to the proposal, some faculty members voiced concerns that Safe Zone would alienate members of the Elon community who do not respect LGBTQ rights.
But Safe Zone will be an optional program that provides training to those interested in acting as resources for students and faculty looking for support or information.
“If you don’t get Safe Zone training, it doesn’t mean you’re not supportive,” Royster said.
Many interested faculty and staff may find they do not have time in their schedules for the training, she said.
The lack of a Safe Zone logo should not be interpreted as hostility toward the LGBTQ community, according to Cahill.
“We don’t want people getting the training to be coerced,” she said. “That would do more harm than good. It all depends on how the community interprets and understands the logo. If it means ‘I’m nice to LGBTQ students,’ we’re in trouble. Knowledge and expertise are much different from being kind. Being an LGBT ally demands more than mere kindness.”