Student Affairs joins Safe Zone Project

The division of Student Affairs has joined the many on campus who are already participating in the Safe Zone Project as of Feb. 6, becoming the program’s largest participant.

While a number of individual student affairs professionals were already participants in the Safe Zone Project, this action will bring in each Student Affairs unit as a participant.

Jody Cofer, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender program coordinator, said it made sense for Student Affairs to become a participant with the Safe Zone Project.

“If you compare the mission statement of the Safe Zone Project with the mission statement of the division of Student Affairs, there is a lot of overlap,” Cofer said. “They both promote welfare, growth and the development of students.”

The mission of the Safe Zone Project is to support faculty and staff to become allies for LGBT students and colleagues through education, advocacy, visibility and skill development.

The project is designed to reduce prejudice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression by creating a safe and affirming environment for students to seek out on campus.

Locations on campus displaying the Safe Zone symbol such as the study abroad office and the University libraries are letting students know of their participation with the Safe Zone Project.

The Safe Zone Project currently has more than 250 participants on Murray State’s campus. Student Affairs is the project’s largest participant to date.

Cofer said although there are different hurdles to overcome with such a large participant joining, the coordinators of the Safe Zone Project will make sure the project is done correctly and believes it will have a positive affect on Murray State.

Cofer has not currently heard of any opposition from Student Affairs members about participating. There is a large amount of the university’s LGBT work already coordinated out of the division of Student Affairs.

The project is currently working toward different training programs to offer throughout the semester. On March 1, the project will host a spring training program titled “Tools and Resources for an Inclusive Campus for All”. This training joins together with Brian Buford, director of LGBT services at the University of Louisville, to provide information for participants about tools they need to best handle situations they might encounter through their work as an ally. The deadline to register for the training is Feb. 25.

A social mixer will also be held for faculty and staff on March 6 at The Big Apple Cafe from 5-7 p.m. Registration for this mixer is not required.

This is the first year that training programs have been offered by the Safe Zone Project. Last semester Nora Spencer from Vanderbilt University came to offer a training program to help participants better understand what needs to be done in emergency situations. The training program had an 87 percent response rate from participants who attended.

Cofer said when the Safe Zone Project began it was not much more than a good faith effort by those who wanted to put up signs, and now the project is progressing to something bigger through events such as the training programs and through the participants such as Student Affairs becoming involved.

“We had a vision that at some point we could bring on different components to help build up the project and its credibility as well as the impact it had on student’s lives,” Cofer said.

He said the main difference the program has made to the students at Murray State is the impact that it has had on the climate and how diversity is discussed.

“It has helped to normalize the LGBT and allied groups on campus and made it not as controversial as it once was,” Cofer said. “Students can now feel safer to discuss these issues on campus.”

Story by Rebecca Walter, Staff writer.