LGBT ally support visible in the classroom

Story by Abby Siegel, News Editor 

LGBT ally support continues to grow at Murray State as professors highlight their Safe Zone Project participation on course syllabi.

Jody Cofer Randall, LGBT Programming Coordinator, said the discussion for professors informing students of their Safe Zone participation on their syllabus began from Murray State’s membership in the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Professionals and the practices at other institutions.

“Ally development is one of the most important areas of work for the office,” Cofer Randall said. “Many LGBT students find that knowing their faculty is being proactive in being a visible ally to be affirming of who they are.”

Cofer Randall said professors who have completed the Safe Zone training are encouraged to add a short blurb to their course syllabus similar to the non-discrimination statements, but they are not required to.

“After looking at several examples from Youngstown State University, North Carolina State University and Rochester Institute of Technology, the LGBT Programming Advisory Committee supported the idea of me sharing the idea as a recommendation with our participating faculty,” Cofer Randall said.

The suggested syllabus Safe Zone statement reads:

“I am a member of a Safe Zone Project and I am available to listen and support you in a safe and confidential manner. As a Safe Zone participant, I can help you connect with resources on campus to address problems you may face that interfere with your academic and social success on campus as it relates to issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity. My goal is to help you be successful and to maintain a safe and equitable campus.”

Approximately 10 percent of Murray State students openly identify as LGBT, according to the 2013-14 Murray State Campus Climate Survey.

The Safe Zone Project is  “designed to radically reduce prejudice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression at Murray State by creating a safe and affirming campus,” according to Murray State’s website.

The project began in 2010 at Murray State and currently has more than 400 participants, known as allies, including the Office of the President, College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the Education Abroad office, the website says.

The training is discussion heavy and covers topics such as gender identity, terminology and how to approach issues that arise with LGBT students, said Constance Alexander, adjunct professor of English and Safe Zone participant.

Alexander said she includes the Safe Zone statement on her course syllabus, and she has had students come to her at different times to discuss their personal struggles.

Emma Lewis, graduate student and Murray State alumna from Louisville, Kentucky, said she believes it is important for students to know they have support from their professors.

“I think it would be helpful for the LGBT students in their class and for anyone really to know they have a safe space within that professor to confide in,” Lewis said.

Lewis is an ally and said she believes there should be an LGBT center on campus, similar to the Women’s Center, that is specifically for LGBT students and allies as a meeting place and resource center. She said the center could be available for people in the community in addition to Murray State students, faculty and staff.

Lewis said the University of Louisville has an LGBT Center with multiple paid staff members. Murray State has an Office of LGBT Programming located in Blackburn Science Building. Cofer Randall is the only staff member in this office.

“Since we are in such a rural, religious town, I think it is really important for the younger students and community members to have a place where they can go have a safe space to talk to people who are like them and understand what they are going through,” Lewis said.

She suggested having a full-time counselor skilled in LGBT issues and plenty of resources such as hormone treatment options for transgender individuals, resources specifically for allies and information on transitioning from high school to college as an LGBT student.

“I do not think you will ever find a positional leader serving LGBT students who will say more visibility and resources is not needed,” Cofer Randall said. “We have made tremendous progress in demonstrating our institutional support of LGBT students, but incremental progress often goes unnoticed at the time.”

The next discussion titled “How We Relate to Violence” will be 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 in the Curris Center Ballroom to gain a better understanding of the perspective of others, and is hosted by the Murray State Division of Student Affairs and the Kentucky Council of Churches.