The Cornell University Gay-Straight Alliance (CUGSA) and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center launched its Safe Place Project yesterday, which seeks to increase awareness, and open communication lines for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. Members of the Cornell community received e-mail notifications yesterday and have the opportunity to show their support for individuals who may have questions or simply want to discuss their concerns about sexual orientation.
“[The Safe Place Project] is a campus-wide diversity initiative, and is essentially a visibility campaign,” said program coordinator John Connelly ’03. All members of the Cornell community can get involved. Participants sign up for a Safe Place card which can be displayed virtually anywhere, including office buildings and residence halls. Safe Place cards indicate that the participants support LGBT awareness.
In addition, since this program is open to everybody, heterosexual individuals will have the ability to learn about the challenges that LGBT students face. “[The heterosexual individuals] feel like they’re more able to communicate with their LGBT peers, [and it helps] open up conversations,” adds Connelly.
“Part of the program is to make people aware of the biases against LGBT people,” said Sarah Simpkins, advisor of the Safe Place Project, and of Haven, a LGBT social support group.
In the past two years, bias conflicts reported have been due to sexual orientation and perceived sexual orientation. Connelly points out that this program “is a way to counteract the negative incidences,” by increasing awareness and providing a sanctuary where sexual discrimination is both discussed and challenged.
“A long time now, since 1999, students have been bringing up why Cornell doesn’t have this [program],” adds Simpkins. Since Fall 2000, members of CUGSA have been looking into initiating this project at Cornell.
The Safe Place project has already been initiated at other universities, such as Ithaca College, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Georgetown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Purdue, and Iowa State, with many positive results.
Furthermore, a study done by Dr. Nancy Evans at Iowa State University confirmed that Safe Place has a positive effect on the mental and emotional well-being of LGBT students.
Participants do not act as counselors, but as people whom LGBT individuals can feel comfortable talking to about their sexual orientation. They can also direct LGBT individuals to the appropriate resource services.
Reactions from Cornellians to this project, although positive, are met with some uncertainty on its general acceptance among other students. “It would increase awareness, but it might give homophobics an excuse to make jokes,” said Lucy Zhu ’06.
“[I] just hope that it will be a successful project. We anticipate a large amount of participants, [and we hope] more people will get involved,” said Connelly.
Archived article by Mary Chu