Diversity Matters

Brian Allen

The Sept. 18 Diversity Matters conference was a reintroduction of the Washburn University Safe Zone Program. Host Kim Morse, associate professor of history, explained that the Safe Zone Program is not in response to any particular threats, incidents or hate cult, “It is preventative education. As the world becomes a more complicated place it is part of what we can do to become more aware. It’s really about helping gay, bi, lesbian, trans students become more comfortable with themselves in the university environment. Everyone should feel comfortable to be who they are and that we are enriched by that diversity.”

Marsha Carrasco Cooper, Director of Student Activities and Greek Life, presented the Safe Zone Manual and guided the near dozen faculty, staff and students through it’s educational material designed to sensitize participants to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues. The objective being the training of staff volunteers who will in turn place Ally signs in their workplace alerting LGBT students that they offer a Safe Zone.

The training began with a group reading of the “Free To Be Me” statement that acknowledges how ones ignorance and misunderstanding is a product of a heterosexist and transphobic culture, but one needn’t feel guilty and has permission to ask stupid questions and be honest about feelings. One needs to take responsibility about what one can do now to learn and change false beliefs or oppressive attitudes toward LGBTs.

Director Cooper then lead group discussions covering a variety of material including terminology, symbols, Kinsey studies, heterosexual privileges, stereotypical attitudes, myths and biblical versus, pro and con. The Riddle Homophobia Scale explained that even Tolerance and Acceptance are homophobic attitudes. Positive attitudes are Support, Admiration, Appreciation, and Nuturance. These are the attitudes a Safe Zone Ally will offer LGBT students, family or friends.

The Ally volunteers contract commits them to “educating myself, and others, about oppression, heterosexism and homophobia, and combating it on a personal level… working towards providing a safe, confidential support network for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community… to treating everyone with the dignity and respect that they are entitled to as human beings.”

So if you have questions, concerns or issues and want a caring confidential ear, look for a “Ally, Safe Zone” sign.

The next Diversity Matters Program will be held in the Student Unions’ Vogel Room, October 16, 1:30 p.m. Subject: The Victimization of People With Disabilities.