Tri-State Safe Zone Initiative
We believe every person has a voice. We believe every person has unique strength. When we mobilize the diverse voices and strengths of our allies, we foster a community that is socially just.
EMPOWERMENT. We knew we wouldn’t be able to empower people, but we knew we could create opportunities for people to empower themselves. As such, we wanted to develop the program in a way that mobilized allies, allowing for ideas and solutions at each level.
ECOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE. In order to change campus and community climate, we knew that we needed to pay attention to the different systems within the community. That is, we wanted to develop the program in a way that created change at the micro and macro level. We wanted our allies to serve as persons of trust, as well as action; whether that action took place within the confines of an office, a family unit, a community group or political party.
In the fall of 2009, I arrived at the University of Southern Indiana (USI) and began my first "real" job as an assistant professor. That first semester consisted of teaching four courses and adjusting to the throes of my new position. It was during the winter recess, I think just a week before classes started when I met Amie - a petite woman who exuded strength. We were both waiting to meet with the director of the Living Learning Community (LLC) program, as we were assigned to teach honors sections of LLC courses for the spring semester (hers in psychology, mine in communication studies). There are merely bits and pieces of personal information from Amie—Kansas, human sexuality and gender, teaching at USI for the second time. I do remember feeling that I was meeting a kindred spirit, a self-identified feminist scholar. And I remember thinking, “This could be the start of an interesting collegial friendship.”
After spending many hours talking with students, faculty, business owners, and community members (and with our core principles in mind), we began creating a series of efforts to create a shift in culture at the individual level, community level, and policy level. In doing so, the Tri-State Area's Safe Zone Initiative was developed. Yes. We are allies, and we stand united
RESPECT FOR DIVERSITY. Oppression is experienced differently when considering the intersections of sexuality, gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status. As such, we wanted to develop a program that was based on a respect for the unique intersections of diversity within our community.
CONTEXTUAL FOCUS. Communities have different strengths and resources. They also have different needs, based on their unique history. We knew that a “one size fits all” approach to program development would fail and wanted to develop a program that was contextually based. A program that would work for, and with, the community in which we live and work.
Being no stranger to hard work, I was nonetheless taken by surprise by the intensity of my first tenure track position. Upon arriving at the University of Southern Indiana (USI) in 2009, I spent much time adjusting to the demands of my new position. The first semester came and went, leaving nothing more than a host of blurry memories. Despite the difficulty in remembering the numerous course preps, meetings, and scholarship activities, one aspect during the fall semester stands out: my impression of the campus and community climate with regard to the seemingly invisible LGBT population. As such, my Safe Zone sign hung outside my office door that semester - the same sign I had carried with me from university to university. At the time, I had no idea it would be this sign that would define my career at USI. I had no idea it would be this sign that would lead to a partnership with Stephanie that would be built on trust, empowerment, and activism.