As the school year begins, members of the SIU community will engage in a crash course geared toward Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer lifestyle awareness.
The Safe Zone Training Program, led by the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center, takes place today through Friday as part of the school’s Week of Welcome. LGBTQ coordinator Wendy Weinhold said the center aims to create an inviting atmosphere to students of all sexual orientations.
“The Safe Zone Program is a program that educates people who are interested in being allies in the LGBTQ communities,” Weinhold said. “It is an opportunity to explore some of the issues and concerns regarding safety and identity for LGBTQ peoples.”
Despite the name, Safe Zones aren’t actually areas.
“The idea of a Safe Zone is not about making spaces … because there’s no such thing as a safe space,” Weinhold said. “People are safe zones; spaces aren’t, because people can be responsible for their actions.”
The program has been a staple of the Week of Welcome for several years. It consists of a 60-minute training session tailored to the heterosexual community that engages in discussion, role-playing and education about resources to the LGBTQ community, she said. Topics covered include coming out, respecting gender identity, terminology and ways to help LGBTQ people, Weinhold said.
Sarah Self, an LGBTQ Resource Center graduate assistant, said the program has been viewed as a success.
“It has improved tremendously over my time here,” she said. “I’ve been here since December 2010 and we have increased our numbers from approximately 200 to about 1000 participants.”
Weinhold said the program is not a rote series of repeatable steps. Each session is customized for the particular group partaking in the course. The process has an added benefit of making a difficult issue more relatable to the community attending the event, she said.
Interim Dean of Students Katie Sermershein agreed that the program was critical to the campus.
“We want students coming in to our university community to respect the environment in which they are coming in to,” Sermershein said. “Everyone should be allowed to be the individual that they are and that they choose to be.”
Nearly 200 Recreation Center student staff members participated in a training course Friday.
“I thought it was a good eye-opener on how to handle certain situations,” said John Schiller, a senior from Wood Dale studying civil engineering. “I believe it will be beneficial to the employees here at the (Student Recreation Center).”
Molly Gable, a junior from Carbondale studying outdoor recreation, agreed with Schiller.
“(Weinhold) was very informational and educational in the way she taught the class and had everybody involved,” Gable said.
Both students said they recommended the course.
Safe Zone Training will take place during the Week of Welcome from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday and Thursday in Grinnell Hall, from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in Lentz Hall, and from noon to 1 p.m. Friday in Lentz Hall.
More information about the LGBTQ Resource Center is available by visiting the center in Woody Hall, calling the center at 618-453-5627 or online at http://inclusiveexcellence.siu.edu/lgbtq/.