The Office of LGBTQ Student Life Safe Space program fosters an inclusive environment that challenges oppression and provides support for LGBTQ students. Safe Space educates the University of Chicago community on the challenges that many LGBTQ students experience through trainings and supports LGBTQ students by developing an ally network and creating welcoming physical spaces for the UChicago LGBTQ community.
Surveys indicate that LGBTQ students who do not feel safe are likely to skip class, or even days of classes, out of fear for personal safety. Students who can identify a supportive community member are more likely to feel a sense of belonging at their school than those who cannot. The Safe Space program increases the visible presence of student and adult allies who can help to shape the University’s culture that is accepting of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, or any other difference. This is particularly important for closeted students (those students who have not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity) as it gives them an opportunity to identify individuals they may safely reach out to in the coming out process, knowing that they will not be turned away or receive an negative reaction.
Training the UChicago Community
Safe Space removes the barriers to communicating and supporting LGBTQ people. Many allies experience a fear of unintentionally displaying homophobic or transphobic or prejudiced behavior that may be an impediment for relationships with LGBTQ people. The trainings will allow participants to learn the history of LGBTQ people, and provides an overview of the language and symbols that represents the diversity of the LGBTQ community. Identity development and coming out theories and models are introduced to increase knowledge of the experiences of LGBTQ people. Participants will gain an understanding of oppression and privilege, and the unique aspects of homophobia and transphobia. Through these trainings, participants will be given the tools to be an ally to the LGBTQ community.
Creating Welcoming Physical Spaces
Safe Space creates welcoming physical spaces on campus where LGBTQ students can have a conversation with students, staff and faculty knowing that they have a basic understanding of the challenges these students face in developing their identities. The visibility of the signs on the doors and in the offices of individuals who have participated in the trainings serves to increase the overall visibility of the ally community on campus, creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students. The presence of these signs indicates that the University is committed to supporting the LGBTQ community. Finally, the decals also serve to increase the number of LGBTQ students at an institution. Many prospective students look for the presence for a program like Safe Space to help them determine if an institution is welcoming of LGBTQ students. Having this program will help in recruiting these students and increasing diversity at the University.
Developing an Ally Network
Following the orientation, participants receive a Safe Space decal to display in their work or living space, and will have the opportunity to be listed on the LGBTQ Student Life website as an ally to the LGBTQ community. By displaying the Safe Space decal, allies are able to identify themselves as welcoming, safe, educated trained, and aware people, and pledge to promote a safe and affirming space for LGBTQ people by offering an atmosphere of respect, fairness, and trust. Allies will also be provided with programs and additional educational opportunities that will further their development as allies.