Safe Zone Ally Program Promotes Inclusive Campus through Understanding
The ability to listen can often be more effective – and well received – than words with the best of intentions, presenter Michelle Santiago told attendees at an Oct. 30 workshop for Moravian College’s Safe Zone Ally Program. Santiago, a Moravian alumna and assistant director of the College’s Counseling Center, expanded on her point, recalling that when she works with RAs, training them on how to address possible issues regarding a student’s sexual identity or orientation, her advice is to “close your mouth and open your ears.” That guidance, she reasoned, could work equally well in similar circumstances for the College’s faculty and staff.
During the program’s workshop, which was tailored toward issues facing faculty and staff, Santiago and contributor Lizabeth Kleintop, associate dean for business and management programs at the Comenius Center, highlighted a myriad of topics affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. The event, which was sponsored by the College’s Center of Intercultural Advancement and Inclusion, discussed LGBTQ terminology, debated possible scenarios involving students, faculty and staff, and explained campus resources that could help promote “an inclusive campus.” A “coming out” exercise further raised the emotional awareness of the participants.
The program’s overarching mission is to provide a network of safe and supportive allies to the LGBTQ community and Moravian College.
“The Safe Zone was essentially created so that members of our community had a safe place to say, ‘I need some help,’” said Santiago at the opening of the workshop. “Hopefully, we will equip you with the general, basic knowledge that one needs to offer the help that is required.”
Santiago explained that attending the Safe Zone Ally workshop wasn’t a pledge to become more involved, but nonetheless she appreciated the interest. In total, nearly three dozen people were on hand. “Just because you are here, we don’t expect you to do or commit to anything,” she explained. “Maybe you are just here to learn, and that’s great.”
We want to promote the development of the diverse student and the diverse faculty, and first we must explore who we are and how we lead by challenging ourselves to embrace the diverse contributions of intercultural, unique and LGBTQ people of Moravian College.”
– Michelle Santiago
“For Safe Zone allies, what we would like you to do is engage in social justice acts that develop a positive sense of self and community here on Moravian’s campus, as well as provide informational resources when someone asks you for assistance,” continued Santiago. “We want to promote the development of the diverse student and the diverse faculty, and first we must explore who we are and how we lead by challenging ourselves to embrace the diverse contributions of intercultural, unique and LGBTQ people of Moravian College.”
As part of that mission, the meeting incorporated feedback provided from previous student-centered Safe Zone Ally workshops. One key note brought forward by students was the sense of safety that comes from entering a workplace or office displaying a Safe Zone sticker.
“Your role as a Safe Zone member is to be visible. We want you to be visible, or as visible as you feel comfortable with,” Santiago explained.
Santiago kicked off the workshop by instructing participants to take a 15-question “Heterosexual Questionnaire,” with questions such as “What do you think caused your heterosexuality?” and “To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies?” The thought-provoking quiz transitioned into a discussion about LGBTQ terms and definitions, some commonly known and others commonly misused. The workshop also touched on topics such as “heterosexual privilege,” the benefits received by heterosexuals in society, as well as unsubstantiated assumptions about LGBTQ individuals and the risk of “outing” a person or offering assistance when help was not asked for.
Santiago explained that while Safe Zone allies may not be experts on LGBTQ issues, they are valuable because they are resources and sounding boards for those individuals in need. Being supportive and understanding can often be the greatest assistance, she said.
The workshop concluded with a referral list of various Lehigh Valley LGBTQ affirmative resources.
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