By Joseph Arsenault – Assistant Editor
University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) students and faculty recently participated in the Safe Zone Project Train the Trainers program facilitated by Sarah Holmes, Coordinator of the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity at the University of Southern Maine (USM).
In an interview after the program Holmes said, the Safe Zone Project started at USM in 1996. She said the program was borrowed from the University of New Hampshire and they borrowed it from another school who borrowed from another school.
A Safe Zone is a place where LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) can talk about any issues going on, and what goes on doesn’t leave the space, said Bruce Dodge Jr., senior and History/Anthropology major at UMF.
In an email out to student clubs and organizations Dodge said, “In today’s world there are many issues that face people who are LGBT or questioning. Safe Zone workshops will help you be able to engage more effectively with people facing many of the challenges that can go along with being LGBTQ in western society. Safe Zone trainings will strive to help protect students from harassment, as well empower our community to help one another by supporting our fellow classmates, students, faculty and staff. This is a great tool in building a safer community for all.”
From the event itself it was also clear a Safe Zone is a place where even allies, old or new, can go to discuss related matters. The spaces are indicated by Safe Zone stickers.
Assistant Director for the Center for Student Involvement (CSI), Maya Kasper said in a recent interview before the event, Bruce Dodge wanted to get the Safe Zone Program started again and said it is really the Alliance, CSI and Residence Life putting on the program.
Dodge said, the program is “Train the Trainer” meaning to train people on how to communicate better with people of the LGBTQ community on issues such as sexual orientation. He said, the goal is “to create a community of people on campus who can understand different issues within the LGBTQ community.”
Anybody is eligible for Safe Zone Training and can benefit no matter sexual orientation, said Dodge.
Kasper said, “At least since I’ve been here I have not been aware of Safe Zone stickers or trainings being offered.” Kasper thinks it is critical to have the program at UMF and she said that “diversity is an issue and topic I believe all students should have an opportunity to engage in conversation about.”
Around upwards of 20 people showed up and participated in the Safe Zone Train the Trainers program on Jan. 28. Refreshments of freshly cut celery, cucumbers and carrots, to snacks like cheese and crackers and cookies, were offered and the workshop itself seemed to help educate those who attended.
Kasper said the program is primarily focused on the LGBT community, and that the purpose of having the Safe Zone Project is to make sure services, and environments are safe and supportive for all students.
If a student does not feel safe, having the Safe Zone Program and sticker will erase fear of whether someone is supportive or not, she said. From her perspective UMF is a supportive environment, but it doesn’t mean all students feel supported. Bringing the program back she said, will help focus energy on having a safe and supportive environment we want, and we want LGBT students to feel safe and supported.
We need to educate ourselves on the topic of how to deal with gender identity and students that are transgender and transitioning, said Kasper, LGBT continues to grow with topics we need to educate ourselves on. She compared it to working with other cultures and populations and having the same support all around. She said, we are a global economy and structure and we engage with people from different diversities every day.
Holmes said, “We have gender neutral housing at USM, we have since 2002.” There are two upper class halls with apartment style housing which are like that, she said and starting this year there is a rainbow floor for first years, transfer students and returning students for LGBT community and allies.
Some USM faculty volunteer to do training, said Holmes. She said sometimes she has meetings with departments though it is rare.
Kasper believes in order for the program to be successful at UMF, students need to take the initiative. She hopes UMF gets a website up and something on MyCampus in relation to the program.
It is a great recruitment and retention program, Kasper said. In relation to that she said, if parents see the stickers up they will comment on them and those with LGBT students will be happy to see them.
“I’ve been doing Safe Zone work for 23 years,” Kasper said. She said it is interesting that she will be able to work with students to start it up again.
Safe Zones can be really anywhere just look for stickers, and as long as a space is private it can be a safe space, said Dodge.
The participants at the training will be meeting shortly to discuss their next step in making the campus a safer place which was decided by the students and supported by faculty.