In its continuing efforts to foster a community of acceptance and respect, Davidson this year launched a Safe Space program to educate the college community about the unique challenges and experiences lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals encounter both on campus and in the greater community. Almost 200 students, faculty and staff members completed Safe Space training during the inaugural year, a turnout that exceeded expectations.
"The response was incredible," Assistant Dean of Students Becca Taylor '06 said. "As soon as we posted the first dates for training, we had all of the classes filled and a waiting list."
Taylor worked to launch the Safe Space program in collaboration with staff members in the Residence Life, Multicultural Affairs, Student Health and Human Resources offices. The goals of the program are twofold: first, to educate students, faculty and staff members about the LGBTQ community; and second, to teach them how to apply that information. Training includes effective ways to interrupt homophobic or other prejudicial behavior; how to become and remain informed allies; and learning about the LGBTQ resources available both on campus and in the larger community.
The 3-hour training session includes:
In addition to data and historical information, "the training provides more nuanced information about what the experience is like for LGBTQ individuals on campus, and that is powerful," said Associate Dean of Students Kathy Bray. In fact, in a survey taken after the training, a significant majority of participants-82 percent-said they found the panel discussion with existing students and staff members the most powerful/useful portion of the training.
Timmy Basista '15, a pre-med chemistry major and president of Davidson's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), serves as a panel member.
"I take the responsibility as a speaker very seriously," he said. "I need to convey not just how I feel, but how other members of the community feel."
One of the biggest concerns of the LGBTQ community is feeling like you're not being heard, Basista said, and the Safe Space training addresses the root of that concern.
"It's great to have groups gathered to listen," he said. "It is affirming and validating to a lot of us."
And the stories trainees hear from the panelists paint a vivid picture of the challenges LGBTQ individuals face, as well as the sorts of privileges non-LGBTQ people take for granted. Many of the panelists share personal stories of discrimination, hate or abuse from their own lives, all with an eye toward increasing awareness and creating informed allies on campus.
"It is essential for all members of the Davidson family to feel safe and welcome here, for it to feel like home," Bray said. "And this is especially true for people who feel some degree of discrimination in their lives on a daily basis."
An important part of feeling "at home" is feeling represented, Taylor said. Sensitive to that fact, she and her colleagues working on the Safe Space program also are working to increase the amount of physical symbols of LGBTQ support on campus.
Upon completion of the Safe Space training, participants receive placards they may hang on their doors or in their offices, indicating that they are informed allies for the LGBTQ community. Written in large letters at the bottom of the placard is: "Davidson College Safe Space," and at the top: "A safe haven, providing a listening ear and support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at Davidson." As more people complete the training, students, staff and visitors to campus will see an increasing number of these symbols of visible and informed support hanging on the doors of offices, social houses and dorm rooms.
Basista, Taylor and other students and staff also are working to identify LGBTQ artwork and other items that may be placed in common spaces around campus.
Additionally, this year Davidson was added to the national LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, following intensive review of the college's policies and procedures surrounding LGBTQ recruitment and retention, counseling and health, campus safety, housing and residence life, student life, academic life, support and institutional commitment, and policy inclusion. Inclusion in the index is an important, outward symbol to the greater community- including prospective students-of Davidson's support for LGBTQ individuals, Taylor said.
While the number of people trained during the program's first year is encouraging, the Safe Space planning committee hopes to see many more participate next year. They would like every academic department to have at least one faculty member trained, and to see an increase in student involvement. They also hope to identify groups with specific needs and tailor some training sessions to meet those needs. For example, already Taylor has hosted special Safe Space training sessions for College Relations staff members and certain fraternities.
Safe Space is not the first initiative geared toward support and advocacy for LGBTQ people at Davidson. The school's Gay-Straight Alliance, as well as other campus groups, such as You Are Not a Stranger Here (YAHASH) and the LGBTQ Caucus group, along with the school's counseling center, chaplain's office, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, and the alumni group Gay-Straight Alumni Network of Davidson (GSAND), provide outlets for support, networking and counseling. Additionally the Center for Career Development, Multicultural Affairs Office and Dean Rusk International Studies Program provide resources and support for LGBTQ-friendly employment and study abroad travel, among other things.
The student-run groups, while wonderful outlets on campus, have limited resources, Basista said, and he is pleased to see the additional administrative resources devoted to LGBTQ support and education.
"In the past, the GSA has taken on a lot of responsibility for changing campus culture, which is a lot to put on students with limited time and limited funds," he said.
Additionally, asking LGBTQ students to advocate for, represent and educate peers about the community of which they are a part is an "unfair burden," Taylor said. "They shouldn't have to take on the full responsibility for validating their presence on campus-that's our job," she said, referring to herself and her colleagues in college administration.
"I think what Becca (Taylor) and the administration have done is fantastic," Basista said. "The information they are presenting (in training) is extraordinarily accurate."