‘Safe Zoning’ students

USF is expanding its horizons and views on multi-culturalism to include the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Safe Zone is a program to train people to become safe havens for members of the community.

Thursday afternoon a group of USF staff and students who wish to be involved met in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center for the first Safe Zone task force meeting. Attendees represented an array of organizations, including the Victim’s Advocacy Program, P.R.I.D.E. Alliance and the Multi-Cultural Committee. Most present had the same goal in mind: to create a group of people with the training to provide an environment in which every student feels safe, regardless of sexual orientation.

Eric Vaughn, USF graduate student, is bringing multi-culturalism at USF into a new light. Beyond simply encompassing the different racial and ethnic cultures, Vaughn said he believes multi-culturalism should include the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender society, and he is taking the steps to see that these groups are recognized.

Vaughn was startled by the one thing USF lacked in comparison to his undergraduate school: an extensive Safe Zone program. Vaughn began researching similar programs at other universities across the nation to gather. Through his research, he learned more about what Safe Zone really is.

“At first I looked at Safe Zone as a place, a physical room,” Vaughn said. “I came to realize that it’s more than the sticker on the door; it’s the person inside the room.”

Training involves a series of sharing exercises in which the trainee participates in various role-playing situations.

After completing training, the person has the opportunity to become a Safe Zone. They have the option of wearing a pin designating them as a Safe Zone, if they desire, and can post stickers on the doors of their office or room to alert others to the fact that they have a safe haven and a person with whom they can speak. Safe Zones are available to both gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, as well as heterosexual “allies” who wish to become more educated. However, becoming a Safe Zone is no easy task.

“It takes courage to go through the training and to look at oneself,” said John Jones, a Safe Zone trainer. “That’s a big part of the process.”

Safe Zone training currently is directed through USF’s counseling center. Vaughn’s goal is to make this training more readily accessible.

Jesse Diaz, a freshman and co-chair for the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance, said he was unaware of such a program until recently.

I had no idea what Safe Zone was,” Diaz said. “I didn’t know there was someone I could talk to.”

The task force realizes that wide-spread acceptance will not be easy or immediate.

“Those who cannot be fully accepting can at least be educated,” said Egilda Terenzi, Director for Student Health Services. “I have felt for a long time that we not only need to be accepting but to formalize that acceptance.”

Dozens of campuses across the United States have established Safe Zone programs. USF will soon be added to that growing list. Students who wish to get involved in Safe Zone training can contact Martha Putney or John Jones at the counseling center located in SVC 2124.