Safe Zone training helps create more welcoming community

Ellen Bombela

Everybody, no matter what their gender identity, sexual identity or gender expression might be, should always be able to feel safe, especially on their own college campuses.

This is the motto of the LGBT Student Services, which is trying to help make people feel safe at Iowa State by providing the Safe Zone program. 

The Safe Zone program varies its focus from school to school.

“The way we [at Iowa State] come at it is thinking about how we can make our campus inclusive and welcoming to people all over the spectrum of gender and sexuality,” said Clare Lemke, student services specialist in the Dean of Students Office.

The Safe Zone training program sessions, which people can register for online, are led by Lemke and Brad Freihoefer, director of LGBT Student Services.

“We really try to make it as interactive as possible,” Lemke said. “We have different activities that walk people through the concepts of sexuality, sex (biological) and gender. Safe Zone 101 is really about, at the personal level, how do we address and acknowledge our own personal biases that we have when we interact with people in our everyday life.”

Once Safe Zone 101 is completed, participants will be sent a link and have the option to create an action plan covering how they will help create safe spaces for staff, students and community members around them.

Upon completing the action plan, Student Services will send the participant a placard that they can display if they wish to show that they are providing a safe space.

Lemke said that although the training is for getting people information and resources around campus to help them, Student Services is also open to the idea of having sessions that are specific to a certain group of people.

For example, there is diversity training on gender and sexuality that is mandatory for ISU Police officers. Although it is not Safe Zone training, Lemke said the content is very similar, aside from the fact that the scenarios presented were specific to law enforcement.

“It was a case where every single scenario was specific to law enforcement, whereas in our regular Safe Zone 101 training we have scenarios that are specific to a lot of different people,” Lemke said. 

Lt. Josh Hale of ISU Police participated in the mandatory training for ISU Police officers.

“It provides information and kind of a personal connection to people that have different identities and to be able to understand some of the struggles that they go through, and also to be able to productively work with them and provide the services that our department provides to anybody regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Hale said.

Everyone is encouraged not only to participate in the training but also continue to practice what they learn and apply it to their everyday lives. 

“The training is not intended to be a one-time thing that individuals complete and then walk away from,” Lemke said. “That is why we include the action plan to help participants commit to initial actions they will take in what hopefully will be a life-long commitment to creating welcoming and inclusive spaces for people of all gender identities, sexual identities and gender expressions.”