Pierce makes moves to be a safe campus

On campus Safe Zone workshops are enabling conversations about the issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and plus encounter to help direct focus on benefiting foster youth who identify as members of the LGBTQ community.

“There is a strong link between homeless and foster youth children and children who are LGBT,” said Crystal Kiekel, faculty advisor of Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). “It was through our support for foster youth that we opened up a conversation around on how we support our foster youth who are LGBTQ on this campus.”

One of the things the GSA does is, it creates a campus-wide presence so that there are safe spaces for students who are part of the LGBTQ community and to aid in creating a larger conversation than just within the club, where 15 to 20 people are reached but not the whole campus, according to Kiekel.

Foster youth who identify as LGBTQ are at a higher risk of ditching school, experimenting with drugs and less likely to take college prep classes because of the social stigma that a lot of them experience at home and in school, according to Kiekel.

“For former foster youth we have this money to support the students because we know there is an equity gap among foster youth and non-foster youth in terms of some of our success measures,” Kiekel said.

By opening up the conversation on sexual orientation and gender identity through Safe Zone workshops and trainings that will be offered in the fall and spring, the team hopes to fulfill their cross section of goals, according to Christine Ersig-Marcus communications professor and Safe Zone trainer.

As a result of high demand for the Safe Zone events from people on campus and at the district level, the Safe Zone team returned to continue their work.  

“When it came time to come around and pick a training, this was on top of my list because I’ve been to a lot of safe zone types of trainings but this one was by this far the best, I thought, because it was highly interactive,” Kiekel said.  “And it was a train the trainer [type of workshop], which meant that you weren’t just going to come and get some benefits for you. Rather, it’s a pay-it-forward model.”

Pierce faculty, staff and members of administration participated in the second annual Safe Zone’s Train the Trainer and recently had a training meeting for students on Nov. 3.

Two members of the non-profit organization Gay Straight Alliance, located in Rochester, New York, Jeanne Gainsburg and education coordinator Rowan Collins, directed the event and helped guide the conversation, focusing on different sexual orientations and identities.

“So, we are training folks to leave the room and be able to run Safe Zone trainings on campus,” Gainsburg said. “That’s sort of one goal, the other is to create a Safe Zone team with the individuals that have been trained. They can look at the campus climate along LGBTQ inclusion and look at ways to move the campus forward.”

Gainsburg and Collins introduced vocabulary to the participants to improve comprehension of the issues discussed on gender and sexuality. Gainsburg said they also mentioned strategies on how to be an effective ally, but the majority of the training highlighted issues the LGTBQ community encounters.

“We had a huge group that time, like overcapacity,” Collins said.  “We were super well received and we were pleased to hear that we were asked back to create a larger team, larger network to make sure the program is really happening and maintaining that team that exists.”