Why Safe Zone Training Makes Us All Safer

Micro-aggressions, general ignorance against the LGBTQ+ community — troubling stories have been emerging for years. Unfortunately, little has come of many of these stories aside from sighs and the age-old “that’s-how-it-is-sometimes” shrug offered in solace. Sometimes, listeners make a mental note to avoid that particular professor or classroom. This is not to say that the Pride Alliance and other LGBTQ+ oriented programs on campus have not made noise about serious incidents. But, at a certain point, when the instances feel so small, so frequent, it drains a person mentally and physically to take up the banner of activism. Sometimes we pack away our tiny homophobic and transphobic experiences, telling ourselves that we’ll make peace with them later at Pride. Or into the ear of a trustworthy friend. Or on a Facebook page aiming to link as many LGBTQ+ members on campus into a single e-space, akin the bars and clubs of the fifties.

The question is, why do we have to do all of this? Wouldn’t it be easier to cut out the middleman entirely, and prevent events like these from in the first place? 

The answer is elementary. Homophobia is too pervasive in our society to be avoided entirely and unfortunately, it will take generations — if ever — before we and our children will no longer encounter a sexuality or gender identity-charged aggression. Still, there are tangible, palpable actions we can take to educate ourselves, educate one another. 

Geneseo is one of many campuses to host a Safe Zone training program. Safe Zone’s purpose is to provide an overview of how to respectfully interact with LGBTQ+ people within a college environment. The program takes exactly three hours to complete and is done in a group headed by two Safe Zone facilitators. The Safe Zone programs are highly malleable; they can change based on who they’re being presented to [students versus faculty], and are constantly being rewritten to reflect the newest information. The program employs many theories of effective teaching to best get across its points, and overall, seems to be met positively by those who take it.

Safe Zone is by no means a complete program. You can’t just sit down and learn how to play nice with members of the LGBTQ+ community in three hours. It’s an ongoing process that requires your sensitivity and respect. But the program does give you a good starting point to do this, as well as a lot of resources to turn to if you’re unsure. The ultimate goal is to have LGBTQ+ community members be comfortable to approach and talk to you, or at the very least, feel safe around you.

So who takes Safe Zone training? The answer varies year by year [anyone who requests a training with a certain amount of people can receive one] but I can tell you one thing for certain — it’s not every professor on the Geneseo campus, despite the size of our LGBTQ+ community. Doesn’t it seem strange that an institution that proudly slaps the “diversity” label on every available brochure and information packet peddled out to potential incoming freshman doesn’t make their professors learn how to treat a significant campus population with respect?

In light of recent [and frankly, past] events concerning Geneseo’s classrooms, it is high time that our campus revisits the idea of mandatory Safe Zone training for faculty members. Geneseo makes plenty of money lauding its inclusivity and world-class classroom experience. It’s time for them to start making that a reality. Professors don’t have to make us comfortable - it is their job to shock and challenge us. But they do not have to propagate the same stereotypes and bullying so many of us have already encountered in our lives due to our identities. They do not have to make us sick to our stomachs because of some unchangeable variable in ourselves.

They can learn, too.

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