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September 26, 2008
Vol. 50 No. 4

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Network creates safe space for students

On Thursday, Sept. 18, Susquehanna counselor Andrew Dunlap led a workshop about The Safe Zone Project, a campus group aimed at creating a network of visible support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students.

Dunlap works at Susquehanna's Counseling Center.

Signs indicating students and faculty members who have completed the workshop can be seen all over campus. These students and faculty are officially a part of the Safe Zone Network.

The sign represents the network with the words 'Safe Zone' and a pink triangle underneath to hang on the doors of their rooms or offices. This sign is a symbol of the network on campus and the resource that it creates for LGBTQ people.

"Safe Zone means creating safe space to talk about, in this case, LGBTQ issues," Dunlap said at the beginning of the workshop.

He said "safe space" is the key to the success of the Safe Zone Project because it is a "visible network of support for folks who are largely an invisible minority."

The people who have gone through the workshop have been given knowledge that will help them be a helpful supporter.

However, "It doesn't mean expert," Dunlap said. "It means you're willing to be open to conversations, and willing to learn more."

He said another concept to creating safe space is language. "It's about how you choose to talk about LGBTQ issues," Dunlap said. "It's about not living by stereotypes, and it's about not going by a term."

According to the literature handed out in the workshop to aid in understanding the language for talking about LGBTQ issues, it is also important to understand that we live in a culture where there is a heterosexist bias.

Heterosexism, as defined in the Safe Zone pamphlet, is: "The cultural assumption that a heterosexual orientation is normal and other orientations are abnormal. Like sexism and racism, it is made up of pervasive and largely unquestioned cultural assumptions about human race."

Dunlap said creating a safe space for LGBTQ students includes "using language that isn't excluding that someone might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning," Dunlap said.

He suggested using gender neutral terms when talking to someone about relationships or their significant others as a way to avoid making any heterosexist biased statements or by using a same-sex example in class. By doing this, Dunlap said you are "sending a signal to people that you're not assuming everyone is heterosexual."

The workshop included facts about LGBTQ history such as South Africa being the only country to include sexual orientation in its protection of civil rights in its constitution.

"This workshop is designed to expose you to the basic concepts," Dunlap said. "I want you to walk away with the general idea of what the difference between what gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered is. And I want you to walk away with a lot of questions, and where you can go to get those answers."

To learn more about transgendered people, there will be a Transgender-Ally Beginner workshop on Wednesday, Oct.1 from 7 to 8 p.m. in Shearer Dinning Rooms 2 and 3.


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