Through Safe Zone, Auburn University empowers all students, including LGBTQ+ individuals, the opportunity to succeed academically and socially.

To better support an inclusive campus, Auburn University faculty, staff and students are encouraged to participate in Safe Zone, an interactive professional development training designed to address issues related to working with LGBTQ+ students. Safe Zone also addresses sexual orientation and gender identity topics, including terminology and ways to manage situations that may be encountered.

“Safe Zone can empower and equip participants to become informed allies who are willing to provide a safe environment for all Auburn students,” Brandy Smith, assistant director of clinical training for Student Counseling and Psychological Services, said.

Attendees of the four-hour educational session will participate in open discussions, interact with others through small and large group activities and watch informative videos. Other segments include Smith sharing information on LGBTQ+ topics.

Every person who partakes in Safe Zone will be educated with a mixture of knowledge and skills, Smith said.

“The training provides a combination of what our field refers to as cultural competence and cultural humility,” Smith said. “The latter acknowledges the importance of working to educate ourselves while also acknowledging we can never know it all. It helps us be open and less defensive when we ‘step in it.’”

Smith also correlates Safe Zone with Health Promotion and Wellness Service’s WE.auburn, which is part of a nationwide program called the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program which focuses on actions of the bystander and equipping them to take action and intervene in a potentially dangerous situation.

This means Safe Zone helps individuals realize when something problematic related to sexual orientation and gender identity is said or done, and Safe Zone participants will know how to create a safer environment for the entire campus community.

Smith began facilitating Safe Zone 10 years ago, and one of the biggest impacts she has seen is how much more people speak up to make a positive difference.

“Because people are able to hear ideas for how to respond in various situations, they are able to carry those out of the training and apply them,” Smith said.

Safe Zone participants have brought positive change to campus by advocating for more inclusive signage for single-stall bathrooms, updating administrative forms and research surveys with more inclusive language, improving faculty syllabi on navigating diversity conversations, among other efforts.

“Safe Zone is a readily visible sign to our LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff, along with allies, that there are people on our campus dedicated to creating a safe environment for LGBTQ+ people,” Smith said.

Those who complete Safe Zone receive a sticker to place on their door, indicating a safe and protective place for any individual who needs someone to talk to.

To expand the Safe Zone project, Smith has partnered with the Office of Inclusion and Diversity on a new project, Train the Trainer. Through this project, she hopes more people will be trained across campus to be able to lead their own Safe Zone training.

Anyone who has participated in Safe Zone within the past two years will be eligible to participate. Train the Trainer will provide hands-on experience presenting the course material and ensure individuals have the skills to navigate difficult conversations that may emerge.

According to Smith, increasing the number of Safe Zone trainers on campus will help to significantly advance the program. People interested in becoming a trainer or partaking in Safe Zone can contact Smith at bls0020@auburn.edu.

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Last modified: 09/09/2021