UHD Safe Zone Origins and History
The UHD Safe Zone Program grew out of the frustration of several faculty and staff members with the difficulty in keeping a student LGBTQ organization in existence for more than a semester or two at a time. When the Center Director first began working at UHD in August, 2007, there was no student LGBTQ organization, and this on a campus with a student population of about 11,000 at the time, located in the downtown area of the fourth-largest city in the United States. This was an unacceptable situation.
The Center Director—then a faculty member—sponsored two iterations of a student LGBTQ organization over the next few years, both of which dissolved once their leaders graduated. The Director, along with several faculty and staff members who were disturbed by this trend, formed a “UHD LGBTQ Allies Steering Committee” in the Spring Semester of 2009 with a view to providing a faculty and staff program whose mission in part would be to provide a foundation of support for a yet-to-be-formed student LGBTQ organization. After looking at best practices at a number of other universities, the committee decided to develop the Safe Zone Program. The program took shape over the summer and into the first weeks of the Fall semester of 2009, with the first training offered on October 9, 2009.
The Safe Zone Program was successful in achieving the original goal of the UHD LGBTQ Allies Steering Committee, which was to provide a foundation for a long-lasting student LGBTQ organization on campus. By 2011, a student organization--also called Safe Zone--was up and running and has been going strong ever since. In 2015, the members of the student LGBTQ Safe Zone voted unanimously to change the name of the organization to Stand Out!, in part to differentiate the organization from the UHD Safe Zone Program. The student organization has been active on campus for four years as of this writing, and is poised to continue going strong as it has successfully passed through multiple changes in student leadership, one of the most serious challenges to the persistence of student organizations.
The development of the UHD Safe Zone Program over the summer of 2009 coincided with the beginning of Dr. William Flores’ tenure as President of UHD in July, 2009. President Flores was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Safe Zone Program, in part due to his experience at two other campuses that experienced anti-diversity-related incidents, one targeting an LGBTQ student. Having seen other institutions deal with such incidents, President Flores’ approach at UHD has consistently been proactive. His response to a friendly email from Dr. Hudson notifying him of the upcoming first Safe Zone Training was that he believed “. . . the entire campus should be a SafeZone and . . . we should work to create a supportive and welcoming environment for all students.”.
In June of 2015, the Center for Diversity & Inclusion launched a revamped Safe Zone Program, a new Safe Zone Program Blackboard site to house training materials, and a new faculty/staff face-to-face training program. This is a significant improvement over a fully manual system, as it allows some of the training materials to be moved online, freeing up limited training time for practical role play and situational practice and discussion. Blackboard facilitates readily available materials that are easily updated and kept current. More importantly, Blackboard enables easy use of an online discussion forum that will provide connectivity and a sense of community that was lacking in the previous incarnation of the Safe Zone Program. In addition, Blackboard allows the Center Director to provide Safe Zone Team members with access to articles and other materials to create ongoing opportunities for members to increase their knowledge or LGBTQ issues and concerns, as well as to increase their effectiveness in providing a listening ear for LGBTQ campus community members who seek them out.