CU Safe Zone (formerly called "CU Speak Out) provides an avenue through which straight-identified allies and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people can actively express their affirmation for the LGBTQ community at Columbia University. CU Safe Zone members are identified by displaying the CU Safe Zone symbol and thus signify that their space is safe to talk about LGBTQ issues and that people can be "out" or reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity. All students, faculty and staff are welcome to join.
Become a Member
Potential members are required to attend a new member session. This session is designed to provide communication skills to help members have effective conversations around sexual and gender identity. Upon completion of the new member session a CU Safe Zone sign is provided. Other identifying items are provided such as a computer desktop wallpaper and button.
Continuing Education Sessions
Continued training is asked of all members to earn further stickers for their CU Safe Zone sign as well as other visual items such as a lapel pin, t-shirt and magnet. Attend sessions whenever you want throughout your time at Columbia. Three different one and half hour continuing education sessions are offered during convenient times during lunch and early evening. These sessions, offered multiple times throughout the year, are titled Coming Out, Transgender 101, and Multiple Identities. Once all three sessions are completed a framed CU CU Safe Zone Ally certification will be awarded.
Why CU Safe Zone?
An April 2007 series of focus groups with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & queer (LGBTQ) student community found that the campus climate at best is tolerant (not accepting) about non-heterosexual sexual orientations. At worst the campus is silent about transgender people and LGBTQ students have faced bias and non responsive staff and administration. We know that this perception, silence and bias can be countered with the public identification of allies particularly those participating in this CU Safe Zone program.
This silence and misperception is also found in research at other institutions of higher education. Faculty, staff and students are likely to believe that their peers hold negative attitudes about LGBTQ people resulting in adjustment of behavior to emulate this misperception (Bowen & Bourgeois, 2001; Worthington, Savoy, Dillon & Vernaglia, 2002). Additionally, heterosexual males will feel the need to fit in and be accepted by others that hold negative attitudes about LGBTQ people thus emulating their peers (Franklin, 1998). The public identification of allies through the CU Safe Zone program will help to alleviate previously held misperceptions, encourage affirming group identification and encourage others to participate while creating a more accepting campus culture.
Why Require a New Member Session and Continuing Education?
Posting the CU Safe Zone sign or symbol is helpful in communicating nonverbal support but not all persons that post a sign or display a symbol are going to be able to communicate effectively when conversation occurs as a result of the sign. The new member session and continuing education sessions will help to alleviate barriers to this conversation.
An impediment to contact with LGBTQ people and issues can be anticipated discomfort about future interactions with LGBTQ people (Mohr & Sedlacek, 2000). The fear of unintentionally exhibiting homophobic or prejudiced behavior is also an impediment for future contact with LGBTQ people (Devine, Evett, & Vasques-Suson, 1996; Mohr & Sedlacek, 2000). Providing these sessions, that create interpersonal contact with LGBTQ people, demonstrate affirming conversation techniques and provide skills building activities can help reduce discomfort and fear before members post signs or stickers.