Open doors and safe places

Tim Magaw

Safe Zones are a place for LGBTs to discuss issues

Safe Zones are areas on campus where members of the LGBT community are welcome and not feel pressured. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ELIZABETH MYERS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

“Danielle, you’re a dike.”

That was the message Danielle Flink saw written in black marker across her room door during her freshman year at Ohio University. Although misspelled, the word still conveyed a message of hate.

She didn’t care about the graffiti’s message. But her resident assistant did.

“I didn’t care much about (the graffiti), but (my RA) came to me and said it’s not OK to display this in the resident hall because it creates a homophobic atmosphere,” said Flink, a senior educational studies major who transferred to Kent State after two years at Ohio University.

Flink’s RA was a Safe Zone.

Safe Zones are places designated by a sticker or a sign that let students know it’s a safe place to discuss LGBT issues and problems.

“I don’t like to think of a Safe Zone as a particular place, but as a person,” she said.

Flink said this is because someone might have roommates who aren’t LGBT allies and don’t approve of their space being considered a Safe Zone.

PRIDE!Kent ally chair Michelle Lang said her room is a Safe Zone, but her roommates support it because they are LGBT allies as well.

“I think it’s important for people to have someone to go to if they don’t know anyone,” senior zoology major Lang said. “It’s a comforting place in the hall.”

PRIDE!Kent Vice President Shawn Szymecki said PRIDE!Kent does a brief Safe Zone training session each year at one of its meetings, hoping to spread the word of Safe Zones.

“We want every RA and every office on campus to put up a Safe Zone,” senior biology major Szymecki, said. “But obviously we don’t want people to put them up if they don’t feel comfortable.”

Kent State is one of 183 universities across the United States and Canada that have a Safe Zone or allies program, according to the National Consortium of Directors of LGBT Resources in Higher Education Web site.

However, Flink said the program needs work.

“Compared to other universities, our program is severely lacking. A lot of other universities have resources online,” she said. “Having an updated Web site would be something useful.”

Currently, PRIDE!Kent supplies Safe Zone material in a tri-fold pamphlet, which has a Safe Zone sign students can cut out and tape next to their door. Szymecki said PRIDE!Kent decided to put the Safe Zone material into the pamphlet because it was cheaper to produce and more people will read it. He also said the current Safe Zone logo PRIDE!Kent uses translates the message verbally, rather than by the rainbow or purple triangle people have used in the past.

However, most universities have colorful Safe Zone stickers, which can be expensive to produce, Flink added.

“Without the support of the university, it’s hard to make the program available to students,” she said, adding that Kent State doesn’t have an LGBT resource center.

At PRIDE!Kent’s Sept. 14 meeting, Flink gave brief Safe Zone training to RAs in attendance, but she said she would like to give the full Safe Zone training to those interested.

“To go through the training is the best way to go,” she said.

Flink offers free Safe Zone training to anyone who wants it as part of her investigation of LGBT college life for her LGBT studies minor. For example, she will train a group of RAs in November.

Although the Department of Residence Services doesn’t provide specific Safe Zone training for RAs, it does provide special social justice training, said Daniel Terrell, chair of the social justice committee.

The social justice training involves about nine hours of diversity training, including topics on sexism, racism and sexual orientation, Terrell said.

“The main goal of the session was to educate what it’s like to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender person in the residence hall,” Terrell said.

He said the training lends itself nicely to Safe Zones.

“We encourage (the RAs) to sign up as Safe Zones, but it wasn’t a main part of our presentation,” Terrell said.

Lang and Szymecki said they have never had anyone come to their rooms in search of help, but that doesn’t deter them from putting up the Safe Zone signs.

“It’s just that off chance that someone needs it, it’s there,” Lang said.

Szymecki has had a Safe Zone sign up since his freshman year, and he plans to keep his sign up.

“The sign is kept up to show people it is a safe place to talk,” he said. “It shows that I am LGBT friendly, and I’m not going to tolerate people making fun of the LGBT community.”

Flink said that she has never heard of any cases of harassment because of having a Safe Zone.

“People might make a sly comment, but I’ve never heard of a case of full-on harassment,” she said.

Lang said she has also never felt harassed because of her sign. A couple of times the sign has been torn down, but never saw any evidence of it being connected with harassment.

“I just put another one up,” she said.

Students, faculty or any group interested in Safe Zone training should contact Flink at [email protected].

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Tim Magaw at >A [email protected].