Student seeks to create Safe Space on campus

 

Last Tuesday flyers were placed on the tables of the cafeteria representing Safe Space, but claiming to have no affiliation with the university. As quickly as they were placed they were taken down and thrown away at the request of Student Development.

Vice President of Student Development Chris Abrams said there are two reasons the flyers were taken down: 1.) They were not approved or stamped beforehand by student development. 2.) Even if they had been asked to be approved they would not have been because the group is not at a place where the university feels they can endorse the group.

All flyers on cafeteria tables must be stamped by Student Development. The two flyers beside the Safe Space flyer were not stamped, which Abrams said is because they were generated out of the student development office to begin with.

“I’m sure there are things that I don’t notice, but the Safe Space flyer is not the first time something has been removed from the tables,” Abrams said.

Junior psychology major Sam Taylor, who is heading the group, tried once previously to get flyers approved to hang around campus, which were denied.

The new Safe Space logo could be seen on the flyers distributed last Tuesday.

Safe Space is modeled after a national group called GLSEN that is meant to be an educational group promoting safe spaces of anti-bullying for all sexual orientations in schools. Safe Space’s goal is to be a place of discovery, understanding, acceptance, education and community, according to it’s Facebook page.

The issue of gay bullying is reflected in stories around the country that seem to be more and more frequent.

“It gets better,” Jamey Rodemeyer said on an encouraging Internet video four months before his suicide on Sept. 17. Rodemeyer was part of the 85% of LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender) high school students who say they are bullied because of their sexual orientation. (GLSEN)  Stories like his are coming up in national news more and more often.

“Last year when I started hearing about all the college students across the country committing suicide because they were different I knew I had to do something,”  said Taylor. So he decided to start a support group for LGBTs on campus.

At the end of his freshman year, Taylor felt so unwelcomed that he was either going to transfer to a university that had these (Safe Space) resources, or come back and give other students the ability to express themselves and feel accepted.

[pullquote]”I made a commitment to marginalized students on campus…”[/pullquote]

“I made a commitment to marginalized students on campus that I would stay here until the job was done, and the organization was up and running,” Taylor said. “I knew I would be marginalized, but I was willing to bite the bullet for all the students who don’t have a voice.”

Since Fall of 2010 Taylor has been conversing with Abrams about how to make Safe Space an official Malone-recognized group.

“We haven’t yet come to an agreement about what this group should look like on campus. Until then it is not an official group,”  Abrams said.

Their discussion has consisted of how to come to find the right blend of faculty involvement in the group should it become “official” and what “official” even means.

Student Senate President, senior Bob Book said a group of students on campus can meet in the dorms and talk about whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean they can be called a group at Malone.

The process of becoming an official student organization starts with the constitutional committee on student senate. They will review the group’s constitution and vote, then take it to student senate at large to vote. If it passes there it will go to faculty senate, where the group’s constitution is voted on again and if that passes it goes to the president’s cabinet.

“It is up to Taylor how far he wants this process to go, and what he would consider ‘official,’” said Abrams.

Safe Space is not the first group of its kind at a university. Around the country CCCU schools are raising awareness for LGBTs and trying to give them room for a support group. CCCU universitys that currently have groups similar to safe space include Eastern Mennonite University, North Park University, Eastern University, Calvin College, Whitworth University and Seattle Pacific University.

[pullquote]“Creating Safe Space wasn’t an option for me,”  Taylor said.[/pullquote]

“As a group we are more about relationships and neutrality politically,” Taylor said, comparing Safe Space to Soul Force, an activist group that visited campus last spring. “They helped me in the beginning idea for this, by helping me see where there was a need.”

“We don’t promote any stance on gay marriage or gay rights. We promote interpersonal activism by getting to know people for who they are,” he said. “We acknowledge there are students here who are LGBT, who deserve a space where they can be affirmed and accepted as a diverse student.”

Students have seemed open to the idea and curious about it; Taylor said he has heard no negative responses. As for bullying on campus, he said, it does happen in a broader category called intolerance and lack of understanding.

“I’ve heard slander directed at LGBT students. I myself have experienced it as a gay man, a lot of it comes from dialogue heard in the classroom like the word faggot, homo, etc.” Taylor said. “Students also often share their opinion about gay people in class without regards for others.”

When asked if there are many LBGT students on campus, Taylor replied “they’re everywhere, there are a lot of people here trying to find how to express their identity in a healthy way. Safe Space is the way to do it.”

Vice President of the group, senior Katelyn Jones, said “On a Christian campus you want to be able to come here and be safe. That’s why you don’t go to state schools. People don’t want to admit that (there are a lot of LGBT students being bullied) because it doesn’t fit into their Malone bubble.”

Outside of Blossom Hall one student expressed sympathy and support in memory of Rodemeyer. (Photo by: Chelsea Weikart)

In a typical Safe Space meeting led by Taylor he talks about the significance of the Quaker belief in relation to Gay identity. He said it was the Quakers and the Friends who were at the forefront of every social injustice, and marginalization of people, which influenced him.

To attend Safe Space meetings is a tricky thing. Not just anyone can come since the group is centered on safety and confidentiality, having an open group could hinder that. They ask that you email them to gain permission.

On the calendar for October, Safe Space is planning every other week meetings on campus as well as a service to the community opportunity, which is open to several possibilities at the time.

“As interest (in the group) has grown, administration has become more hands-on,” said Taylor, who continues to meet with Abrams. “We are not seeking their permission, but overall blessings to the group, and to show our principles aren’t against Malone’s.”

Realizing the need brought to attention by Taylor, Abrams said their conversations will “continue to explore if there are ways within the evangelical Friends history of Malone University that we can better support the needs of the LGBT community.”

As of now Safe Space’s goal is to get approved by student senate by the end of October.

Check out Chelsea’s blog about the story-writing process.

Chelsea Weikart is managing/news editor for Aviso AVW.

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