ECC offers Safe Zone program to faculty and staff

Casey McCartin and Vanessa Passo

Safe Zone is a program offered at Elgin Community College to provide knowledge to faculty and staff about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer acceptance and understanding on campus. The program includes activities and education regarding the LGBTQ community.

Cascio went into further detail about the Safe Zone training, itself, including its purpose.  

“I do the [Safe Zone] training, myself and my partner, Mary. Wellness initiated the cause last fall of 2015. It’s a national program that is used campus wide across the nation,” Cascio said. “The purpose of the program is to really expose faculty, administration, staff and students, as well, about LGBTQ culture and kind of the barriers that they face.”

Cascio recognizes that college is a trying time for students of the LGBTQ community, and acknowledges the possible obstacles one might face.

“The stress and anxiety that comes into play when they come into college, the statistics on bullying and what it means to ‘come out’. What is their journey like? How can you be a supportive ally,” Cascio said. “How can you develope a classroom environment to make it more inclusive and supportive? So we talk about a lot of different issues pertaining to that and also strategies which they can implement in the classroom.”

Safe Zone has been participated by quite a few of ECC’s faculty.

“So, with that we’ve trained over 130 staff, faculty and admin. . .it just started last year,” Cascio said.

Students have the opportunity to see a list of names of faculty and staff at ECC that are Safe Zone certified on the school’s website. Not every individual who has been Safe Zone certified has been listed.

“We also have it on our website…everyone that has agreed to consent to show their name, office information [and] contact information for students to seek out,” Cascio said. “LGBTQ students will mostly use this to tell them who has been trained, who has an understanding of LGBTQ culture, who has dedicated themselves to be empathetic listeners and supportive people on campus.”

Although there are many faculty members listed, there are not very many administrators.

Associate Professor of English, Lori Clark, has been trained and keeps a Safe Zone sticker posted by her office door.

“Two hours out of your day as an administrator I realize is difficult, because they are really busy, but to be able to have that sign on the door that says you are safe zone trained would set a really good example as an administrator and it would help I think also build cohesion between administrators and faculty,” Clark said. “If more of us saw ‘hey, you know what, the administrators take this seriously too’ that would actually help us be more cohesive and maybe not be so divisive and I think too that it’s really important for students to see.”

Clark also expressed concerns about students feeling safe and comfortable when speaking with administrators and faculty on campus.

“I don’t know that there is data that shows this but it makes me wonder, if you have a student who has had homophobic comments or transphobic comments made about them, and I know it happens, are they less likely to talk to a dean or an administrator because that [Safe Zone] sticker isn’t on the door,” Clark said. “If they don’t feel that’s actually a safe space are there things that are happening on this campus that students aren’t talking about because they don’t know if the person they’re talking to is someone who supports them.”

Per their contract, instructors and staff members at ECC are required to complete certain emergency preparedness courses but are not required to become Safe Zone certified.

“It’s a separate thing that they started doing last fall and it’s not a contractually obligated thing, it’s just something that some faculty and staff and a couple of deans have gone through it as well and a couple other administrators, it’s just something to show LGBTQ students on campus that they have support,” Clark said.

The idea of offering Safe Zone training came from a simple question with responses that made Cascio feel sorrowful.

“Just to give you a little backstory on why I put this together. Wellness services was started about a year ago, we did not have this department available for students. They realized that there was a significant need for mental health resources on campus for students, and so that’s when they developed wellness services and when I came on board. When I came on board, I noticed there was a lack of LGBTQ programming on campus and so my partner and I, we started a support group which is called PRY Talk,” Cascio said. “In that support group, we asked one question: Do you feel comfortable on campus? Pretty simple question, right? The answers that I received with that one question was ‘I feel tolerated, I don’t feel accepted’ and that is a pretty powerful statement, and that is when we launched this. No student should ever feel that way, regardless of sexual orientation, identity status, race, ethnicity, LGTBQ culture- you should never feel just tolerated. From there, I advocated with the Dean of Human Services, Greg Robinson, and other administrators to get this rolling. It took a couple months of convincing, but we got it going by 2015 and we keep going every semester.”

When administration was reached they were unable to get back to us in regards to the topic before deadline.

Cascio still has plans ahead for the Safe Zone program at ECC.

“Our main goal is to get more faculty involved. I’ve seen an increase of faculty being able to come into the trainings but I understand there is that hurdle of finding a good time to do these trainings,” Cascio said.