COLUMBUS — Stickers posted outside the music room at Central Community College-Columbus are a message to students on campus.
“It is our way to let students know that they are safe here, that they are welcome no matter who they are,” said Micah Crochet, a music instructor at the local college.
The stickers, featuring the words “Safe Person” and “Safe Space," went up this year outside some offices on campus as part of a college-wide effort to create and maintain inclusive environments.
Faculty and staff members at all the CCC campuses were invited to go through training to support LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) individuals. The stickers identify those who completed the training and are open to talking about LGBTQ issues and providing an accepting environment for everyone.
“We want to make sure that people of the LGBT+ population know their rights and know that there are safe people to reach out to for information and referrals,” said Jessica Sorge, director of prevention education and a crisis counselor at the Hastings campus.
The training was optional and conducted before the school year by certified trainers.
Crochet, who has been at the Columbus campus for three years, said he thinks having safe spaces is important.
“In a place like Columbus, there is a very socially conservative population but all students are different. I don’t mean to speak for everyone in the building, but I don’t think I’m out of line when I say I want our environment and classroom to be a nurturing environment,” he said.
The Safe Person, Safe Space stickers began to appear in 2014 and Sorge said she is creating a map of all the staff and faculty who have stickers at their offices. That map will be added to the college's website.
The training wasn't offered in response to any incident of discrimination on CCC campuses. As a prevention educator, Sorge said she feels there is a need for safe spaces.
“One of my family members identifies as transgender and has shared numerous negative experiences he has had regarding his college experiences in another Nebraska town. I know that we can help these students have a successful and meaningful college experience by showing them that we accept them no matter where they are on the gender spectrum,” she said.
CoLynn Paprocki is another Columbus staff member who has gone through the training. She has been at CCC for five years and said there is a diverse population of students on campus, and it's important to her that all of them feel safe.
“We certainly want students to feel they have trusted people they can go to and feel comfortable in their environment,” said Paprocki, who works with students interested in going into the health care field.
Safe spaces have been popping up on college campuses across the country and generated some controversy from opponents who say such spaces stifle free speech and serve as a haven for like-minded people. Crochet said the spaces aren’t meant to segregate certain populations of the student body from others. The spaces are created to make everyone feel welcome.
“The Safe Person, Safe Space is intended for LGBTQ population. It’s not intended as a hangout space or to alienate students who don’t identify as LGBTQ. It is a way to say, ‘Hey, you are welcome here, too,’” he said.
Sorge said she is happy CCC is providing the opportunity for students, staff and faculty to become more aware and culturally competent about diversity and inclusivity.
“Safe spaces were initially created specifically for the LGBT+ population, but we strive to have inclusive campuses so all students are welcome to reach out to staff (and) faculty at any time,” she said.
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