Gay students find safety in stickers
Safe Zone, a group created to provide a safe environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, will hold its first Safe Zone Task Force meeting today.
Members of Safe Zone are known for stickers on their offices or cars. These stickers are meant to designate the area as one that is safe to discuss sexual orientation issues.
Nicole West, coordinator for Student Affairs at USF, said the goal of the Task Force is to provide an avenue for the Safe Zone message to reach throughout the university.
“It’s going to be a group of faculty, students and staff members that are coming together to help make the campus more aware,” West said.
West said the task force will market the program to the university. She said today’s meeting is the culmination of months of work and will provide a starting point for further community interaction.
“We’ve been doing a lot of legwork since the beginning of January,” she said. “I knew it was something we wanted to do since I came on board in July.”
West said the goal of Safe Zone is to provide a safe haven for students of all sexual orientations. She said Safe Zone members are committed to providing a respectful, ridicule-free area for discussion.
West said one of the focal points of Safe Zone is to become a cross-cultural program.
“Relationship-building is key. One thing we need to do is help students move out of cultural comfort zones,” she said. “Issues of sexual orientation can be barriers to building cross-cultural relationships.”
West said Safe Zone has worked closely with PRIDE, a group for gay and lesbian students. She said anyone who would like to participate is invited to today’s meeting, which will describe the mission of Safe Zone.
“(Our goal) is to create a more inclusive campus environment with regard to issues of sexual orientation,” she said.Graduate student Eric Vaughn is the coordinator for the task force. He said the idea to begin task force meetings occurred to him when he began taking classes at USF.
“I noticed at my undergraduate institution there was a Safe Zone project,” Vaughn said. “I didn’t see anything like that here at USF.”
Vaughn said he began suggesting the creation of the project to members of PRIDE.
“There were all like ‘Yes, I think we need to have something like this at USF,'” he said. “We’re working with PRIDE to make this program even more known on campus.”
Vaughn said Safe Zone is not so much an organization as it is a personal commitment to being aware of the issues surrounding sexual orientation. He said Safe Zone gives people a safe place to talk about such issues.
“The goal of the program, for me, is that it makes a safe place for students that have questions,” he said.
Vaughn said the first meeting of the task force will be largely to get feedback from committee members. He said he will release a survey sometime after the meeting to get an idea of how many people on campus are aware of Safe Zone.
Vaughn said he hopes to build the project to the point where there will be campus-wide participation.
“(I want to have) a task force of anybody that wants to participate on campus,” he said. “That way we can keep the program going even when (members) leave the campus.”
The Safe Zone task force will meet at noon today in room 108 of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center.