A noticeable increase in rainbow colored stickers on office doors and desk stations may soon be observed, as nearly 30 deans, vice provosts, and other individuals within Academic Affairs will be receiving Safe Zone training on May 2.
Safe Zone training is performed at colleges and universities across the country in order to create awareness and develop allies for students in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) communities, according to thesafezoneproject.org.
The first Safe Zone training at the University transpired in 2015 through a group of trainers from the Gay Alliance, according to Dr. Nancy Mezey, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and a Safe Zone trainer.
The initiative to train more individuals within Academic Affairs was a joint effort spearheaded by Dr. Laura Moriarty, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and recommended by the Presidents Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion.
“I think that Academic Affairs, taking the first shot at this as a group, really speaks volumes to how inclusive we want to be, and we sort of set the tone for what happens in departments and units. So I think that this is a really good thing for us to do,” said Moriarty.
Vaughn Clay, Director of Off-Campus and Commuter Services, was trained to teach others about Safe Zones with Mezey in 2015. He will be assisting her and two other trainers on May 2.
“At the training we will talk about different topics within the LGBTQ+ community, we will look at language, perceptions, perspectives, and how we view not only that community, but our role in that experience. What we can do is become more sensitive to different people, or rather people who are different,” said Clay.
“The trainings are exercises and information provided in an interactive presentation. I won’t just stand up there and say that I am an expert. I am sort of a conduit in trying to help share the information with the community,” Clay continued.
Plastered on Clay’s door is a Safe Zone sticker that signifies that he has completed Safe Zone training.
The symbol denotes that students can expect his office to be a climate supportive of LGBTQ+ students and identities.
Future trainees like Lynn Reynolds, a registrar, are excited for the educational components of the training. “I hope to gain a greater understanding of how others feel,” said Reynolds.
“I can’t walk in someone else’s shoes, so I don’t always realize how my words or actions are perceived by someone else. I believe this training will allow me the opportunity to see things from another perspective, which I believe is very important,” Reynolds added.
According to President Grey Dimenna, providing Safe Zone training at the University is an important initiative. “Although I did the training when I was Vice President and General Counsel, I am going to do so again,” he said. “I am also going to strongly urge my Cabinet (the Vice Presidents) to take the training as well if they have not already done so.”
Safe Zones are necessary for the LGBTQ+ community, according to Jane Lai, Vice President of S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M (Sexuality, Pride, Education, Community, Truth, Respect, and Unity at Monmouth) and sophomore English and journalism student.
She said, “Many students tell me how in the past, they have been harassed, beat up or kicked out their houses for coming out. For being themselves. For them, being their full selves becomes a danger to both their mental physical well-being.”
“I think Safe Zone training is about bringing people together. Safety is a priority, especially for students who struggle on a daily basis, either figuring out their identity or trying so hard to hide it,” Lai continued.
Moriarty, who like Dimenna was trained already, will be trained again as well. She said, “You can never be trained too much, and it is always good to be more on the cutting edge, and have an understanding of all the different kinds of issues. Back when I was trained there wasn’t the bathroom issue, and now there is a bathroom issue,” Moriarty continued.
According to Dr. Nicolle Parsons-Pollard, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, the Safe Zone training will be a form of education for the entire University. She said, “I think when you have that symbol on your door or on your desk people will understand what that symbol means, because it has the word Safe Zone below it. I think that that is an indicator about us as an institution…and I think that [the stickers] alone will provide some dialogue.”
Lai appreciates the efforts made by the University to make the campus more inclusive, by way of the gender-neutral bathrooms; however, she concludes that there is still more that can be done. “At the University, there seems to be a huge lack of courses in this content area, as many just dabble upon the topic of LGBTQ+ communities. Unless you are enrolled in a gender studies, social work or sociology class, that education is often nowhere to be found,” said Lai.
“I think every person should be able to experience a welcoming environment on campus,” said Parsons-Pollard. “And it is incumbent upon us to provide for those who work here and chose to come here to be educated, and opportunity to be able to learn about one another so that we have an environment that is warm and welcoming to everybody.”
PHOTO TAKEN by Jamilah McMillan