The primary mission of Mason’s Safe Zone+ Program, like our LGBTQ+ Resources Center, is to create a safer, more welcoming & inclusive campus environment, to strengthen community and encourage networking among faculty, staff, and students toward the goal of supporting the well-being of LGBTQ people.
The Safe Zone+ Program is an evolving education and ally development program. Currently, it consists of four workshops that help participants on their own allyship development journeys. The first component is our new Intro to LGBTQ+ Communities session, which is up to 60 minutes long and offers participants an easy access point for getting involved with the LGBTQ+ Resources Center. Intro to LGBTQ+ Communities will also very much prepare participants for the following three individual 3-hour module sessions. Upon completion of an Intro to LGBTQ+ Communities session, faculty, staff, and/or other Mason professionally employed participants will fill out a form that will provide the information for their placard and let them opt in or out to being included on a Google Map that will be featured on our LGBTQ+ Resources Center website, showing where everyone who has engaged with our program is located. The idea behind giving the placard for completing this introductory component is that we can build a baseline for folks to be able to display the placard, and enhance overall visibility of LGBTQ+-affirming spaces. We also want to build this visibility in online spaces, thus the Google Map. Once folks have the placard, they can upgrade it with stickers upon completion of the Awareness, Gender, and Ally Skills Building modules.
Mason’s Safe Zone+ Program seeks to:
- Provide visible support and resources for LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff.
- Provide a way for allies – supportive students, faculty, and staff – to visibly indicate that they are safe contacts for LGBTQ+ people at Mason.
- Promote increased awareness and understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity across the Mason campus.
- Promote an open-minded, safe, and welcoming campus environment in which students of all sexual orientations and gender identities can live and learn fully.
Folks who participate in each of these modules will be able to:
Register for a synchronous Safe Zone+ workshop here
If you are interested in our asynchronous version of Intro to LGBTQ+ Communities, learn more here.
The MOST important component of the Safe Zone+ Program is the large organization of trained allies displaying the Safe Zone stickers or buttons across the George Mason campus. Because all University Life staff are expected to complete the workshops (and even though NO ONE is required to post a sticker), the largest group of trained allies at this point are University Life staff.
Additionally, approximately one-third of those trained so far are students, seeking to show their support for their LGBTQ colleagues and friends. Safe Zone+ placards can also be seen in many academic departments and administrative offices, and buttons can be seen on the backpacks of some faculty, graduate assistants, and undergraduate students!
Allies posting stickers may be of any gender identity or sexual orientation. Allies are not necessarily LGBTQ+ themselves, nor does one need to be straight in order to be an ally to LGBTQ+ folks. However, heterosexual and cisgender people are especially welcome to our program, as they may have as much or more power and privilege to use on behalf of LGBTQ+ folks and to affect change. We DO NOT ask Safe Zone+ participants to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation.
What about people who do NOT have Safe Zone+ markers?
There are many reasons why students, faculty, and staff may not display Safe Zone+ markers; and our program makes NO judgments or assumptions about anyone who is not visibly part of the program. Plenty of progressive LGBTQ people and effective allies have simply not yet heard of or found the time to participate in, our workshops. So there is NO intention to make any statements about the helpfulness or safety of people without Safe Zone signs.
Challenges to a Safe Environment for LGBTQ+ Folks at Mason
The Safe Zone+ Program exists to counter the challenges facing LGBTQ+ members of the Mason community, such as:
- Homophobic remarks and jokes
- Defacing of property with anti-LGBTQ remarks and references
- The invisibility of LGBTQ students amidst an often heterosexist environment
- Lack of visibly-out LGBT faculty and staff, due to fear of reprisal and a legal/political climate which does not guarantee them safety or security
- Potential isolation and loneliness of LGBTQ+ students because of the inability to identify supportive allies and resources
- Anxiety, stress, and depression often felt among LGBTQ students
- The threat of physical injury and/or death of LGBTQ students from incidents of hate
LGBTQ+ young adults today face a wide variety of experiences and circumstances that can profoundly impact their physical, emotional, academic, and social well-being. Studies have found that a vast majority of LGBTQ+ youth have experienced verbal abuse targeting their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Many also report being threatened with bodily harm, having been followed or chased, having had objects thrown at them, having been physically assaulted, or having been assaulted with a weapon.
When asked about their mental health concerns, many LGBTQ+ college students report feeling sad or depressed, and/or anxious. Coming out to family and friends, being ridiculed for being LGBTQ+, and having one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity discovered by others without their consent are often identified as major stressors by these students.
In one example of such research, every two years the Massachusetts Department of Education conducts a version (MYRBS) of the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, exploring the health-related attitudes and behaviors of high school students. The 2003 survey found that LGBTQ students, when compared with their heterosexual peers, were:
- over 5 times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year;
- over 3 times more likely to have skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe at or en route to school; and
- over 3 times more likely to have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school in the past year.
Similar findings have come from recent reports issued by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the National Gay Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). Thus, it’s well documented that many LGBTQ students face significant stressors and hostile environments with the potential to place their mental and physical health (and therefore, success in college) in jeopardy.
However, when LGBTQ students can identify and access safe and competent peers and authority figures they can turn to as allies for support, advice, information, and advocacy, the effects of these stressors are countered. The Safe Zone Program is one significant way in which LGBTQ students learn where they can turn for support and information.
Many universities (as of 2005, approximately 200 U.S. institutions) have implemented similar programs, including American University, College of William & Mary, Georgetown, James Madison University, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University.