Inside Iowa State
Feb. 6, 1998
Safe Zone project is making strides
by Anne Dolan
Two months into the project, organizers have distributed approximately 1,500 "Safe Zone" stickers to the ISU community. Safe Zone is a project aimed at promoting acceptance, understanding and, when needed, help to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and employees at Iowa State. Participation -- displaying a sticker -- is voluntary.
The sticker project is an initiative of the Dean of Students office and funded partially through a retention and recruitment grant awarded last fall by the Professional and Scientific Council. The proposal was written by a team of 18 faculty, staff and students, led by associate dean of students Houston Dougharty.
Of the stickers distributed so far, 60 percent were requested by faculty, 32 percent by staff, 7 percent by students and 1 percent by other groups such as alumni and Campustown businesses.
While Dougharty is aware of at least 125 Safe Zone-type projects at universities across the country, he said he believes Iowa State is the first Iowa campus with the program. The planning team here has been nicely surprised by the response.
"Realistically, we were thinking if we hit 500, that would be pretty amazing," he said. "The visibility for LGBT people is very low on this campus. Sexual orientation is an invisible trait."
Dougharty said visibility is the first step toward acceptance. Visibility also helps assure LGBT concerns make it into diversity discussions at Iowa State, he said.
Dougharty has heard most of the arguments against the Safe Zone project. For example, why single out the LGBT population for special consideration?
"This is the only group I know of that has sought this kind of visibility. If it takes 17 different stickers plastered all over my door for everyone to feel comfortable, to feel accepted on this campus, I'd do it. Get them to me," Dougharty said.
Or, is it appropriate to use taxpayer dollars for this project?
"We (rightfully) spend a lot of money recruiting all kinds of students to this university, and on scholarships to assure they can attend this school. This is no different," he said.
"In a state like Iowa especially, college is a place where young people learn to be authentic. That is no less true for LGBT students," Dougharty said. "A Safe Zone sticker doesn't indicate a refuge or a place to hide, but a place to be authentic."
Safe Zone stickers can be requested by calling the LGBT Student Services office, 4-5433, or from the Safe Zone Web site, www.iastate.edu/~deanstdt_info/safezone.html.
The effects of the Safe Zone project on the campus climate since November is the focus of research under way this semester by Nancy Evans, associate professor in professional studies in education. Her study will include interviews with individuals who have posted Safe Zone stickers in their work areas about the effects on their interactions with students and colleagues, LGBT or not. She also will interview LGBT students to see how the stickers have affected their interactions with faculty or staff.
Evans, whose research interest is gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues on campuses, is the author of Beyond Tolerance.
"The timing is right for this study because the program hasn't been on campus very long," she said. "This is a good time to see if Safe Zone is having an impact."
Evans said she hopes to have results ready by early fall.
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