Safe Zone is an initiative through the Women's & Gender Studies program at Augustana College to help make our campus a safe and more affirming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (or LGBTQ) students, faculty, staff, and administrators.
Safe Zone training sessions provide education on LGBTQ issues and enhance participants' capacity to be an ally to LGBTQ individuals in a heteronormative society. Workshops may range in length, but usually last two hours. And, on completion of a session, participants earn the designation of Safe Zone ally and receive a Safe Zone sticker to display in their office or residence hall room, an Augustana College-specific Safe Zone manual with helpful information and resources, and a gold star to affix to their Safe Zone sticker to indicate they've completed the session. As an ELCA "Reconciling in Christ" institution, Augustana has implemented Safe Zone as one step of many in achieving its vision of embracing diversity.
There is a fundamental need for individuals who identify as LGBTQ to know that they have allies while at Augustana College. In addition to the numerous transitional struggles that many college students face, LGBTQ students have the added pressure of navigating their sexual orientation and, perhaps, gender identity. With college being a time when many students "come out" or disclose their sexual orientation to others, Augustana is recognizing that there is a need to assist the members of the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ students also use college as a time to establish their identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer adults.
The negative consequences that can come along with being LGBTQ are significant. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, many undergraduate students who identify as LGBTQ have experienced harassment because of their sexual orientation. Several students also rated their campus climate as "homophobic".
In addition, Campus Pride's 2010 State of Higher Education study found that while the overall college campus climate is improving for LGBTQ students, there is still much work to be done. Research shows that LGBTQ students are significantly more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. In late September and into early October of 2010, a surge of students who were gay (or who were accused of being gay) committed suicide, and similar suicides are still happening today. These suicides caught national attention, sparking many advocacy campaigns such as the It Gets Better viral videos and the October 20th Wear Purple Day.
Being LGBTQ often comes with its own set of challenges, and bullying, harassment, violence, depression, and suicide are no exception. To show support for LGBTQ individuals, create a sense of community, raise visibility, work toward advocacy, and enhance overall understanding, Augustana continues to offer courses and programming through the Women's & Gender Studies program that focus specifically on sexuality, gender, and sex, and is currently listed on Campus Pride's LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index as a college working toward being more inclusive of LGBTQ individuals. In addition, the student-led Gay/Straight Alliance on campus hosts regular events, including National Coming Out Day and the Day of Silence/Night of Noise.
Safe Zone is Augustana College's response to the injustice and bigotry faced by our LGBTQ students and colleagues, and a committed effort by a diverse group of individuals to help LGBTQ individuals feel more welcome and empowered during their time here.