Safe Space program digs deeper into students’ needs

Madeleine Winer

Aaron Hanlin, academic advisor for the Honors College, attended the Safe Space program to have his office be a “safe space” for LGBT individuals.

“A sticker is one thing, but if I didn’t have [training], how would students know?” Hanlin said. “It’s knowing that if they ever do need to talk to you, you’re comfortable talking to students about it.”

Hanlin, who is openly gay, had a different experience than other faculty and staff who attended the first Safe Space training session Wednesday. He said although he knew about certain issues of gay and lesbian students, he learned about students across the sexual identity spectrum.

“I did get a new perspective on trans[gender] students and their needs,” Hanlin said. “Prior to training, I would not have felt equipped dealing with a trans student or understanding what their needs were. That’s something that I really walked away with.”

Panel, case study, action planning, new logo

Roxie Patton, program coordinator for the LGBTQ center, said university’s logo for the Safe Space program is unique to Kent State. It has blue and gold, Kent State colors, on the outside with a rainbow, symbolizing the pride flag.

She said the upside-down triangle has been reclaimed for these types of trainings. In Nazi Germany, a pink upside-down triangle was used to mark homosexual people in the same way the Star of David was used to mark Jewish people.

The infinity symbol with male and female symbols combined represents the possibilities outside the binary symbol. The grey forms a question mark, which Patton said symbolizes those who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.

The Safe Space program, formerly the allies program, focuses on actions those at the university can take to ensure a safe environment for members of the LGBTQ community, said Roxie Patton, program coordinator for the LGBTQ Center.

“[The allies program] was more information based, and I think that was a great stepping stone to get where we needed to get,” Patton said. “But this is more about giving you the information you need to know to understand the community and telling you how to use it.”

Patton said the allies program also did not include everyone’s identity.

“As we’ve come to know more and more about the LGBTQ community, if you spread it out, LGBTQ actually goes like 14 or 15 letters,” she said. “We’re moving past just looking at the experiences of gay and lesbian people.”

Patton said participants learn through information sessions about sexuality and gender. A meeting with LGBTQ students follows as they share their coming out experiences and answer questions about their identity.

The last part of the training focuses on how participants can create safe spaces and be an ally in action.

Josette Skobieranda-Dau, assistant director for Residence Services, said her team wanted to experience the program firsthand as the Residence Services Student Staff Training Team is considering implementing the training as an option for future Resident Assistant training sessions.

“It is critical to student academic success that we continue to identify students, faculty and staff who are allies into easily recognizable partners, and having a Safe Space sticker, or magnet in an office, is an individual method,” Skobieranda-Dau said.

Patton said before creating the new program, she researched about 30 other Safe Space programs. She also talked to LGBT students on campus and asked them what they wanted people to know.

“Our program here is essentially one of a kind,” she said. “I really wanted to make sure it was Kent State specific … and something that we could keep adapting if our climate on campus changes.”

Jenna Bice, Performing Arts Box Office manager, said she had been through ally training at other universities, but likes the Safe Space program because it digs deeper into students’ needs. She said she liked seeing her fellow education professionals go outside of their comfort zone to learn about LGBTQ needs.

“We all felt safe in that space and comfortable asking questions that may have been seen as taboo, but we all wanted to learn,” Bice said. “I work with students every single day, and I want to make sure I’m aware of their needs in any situation.”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].