“We are committed to having a campus that is inclusive for all.” – Gilbert Hinga, Dean of Student Affairs
By TODD GOTTULA
KEARNEY – “What would it mean if you knew that whenever you faced any challenge in life, you could simply walk into a trusted mentor’s office to chat? Or just go there because you felt safe and appreciated,” asks Gilbert Hinga, UNK’s dean of student affairs.
At University of Nebraska at Kearney, you can do just that.
Safe Spaces are being designated for students, faculty/staff and campus visitors, typically specific offices of people who have received special training. UNK is offering diversity-training sessions to raise awareness of groups often marginalized based on their sexual orientation, gender, religion, race and socio-economic status.
“It is a way to build and promote an environment where any student can feel welcome and valued, just because of who they are,” said Hinga.
The focus of the Safe Space training is on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) issues.
“We are making sure students have an open environment across campus and places to go where they can be themselves. Spaces where they can talk, relax and know they won’t be judged,” said Mary Chinnock Petroski, chief compliance officer at UNK.
The Safe Space program upholds UNK’s values of inclusion and respect, and advances the university’s goal of creating a campus community where everyone is treated with dignity, said Petroski.
“It’s important to educate others on issues that affect our LGBTQ members, raise awareness and show that we are accepting of all people on our campus,” she said. “UNK is a place where people are free to be themselves and safe from harassment, hate speech or discrimination.”
A Safe Space is intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism or potentially threatening actions, ideas or conversations.
College campuses have created “safe spaces” for many marginalized groups, including women, sexual assault victims, people of color and transgender students.
Numerous schools – including University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha – have Safe Zone and Safe Space programs in place that train students, faculty members and administrators to be allies to LGBTQ and other groups.
UNK’s Equity Access & Diversity Advisory Council initiated the training on campus, which started in February and March. In creating Safe Spaces, UNK’s goal is to share information on campus resources and create a network of people who understand LGBT issues and people.
“This has been a positive step on our campus and has been received very well,” said Hinga.
UNK’s Safe Space training includes four hours of education and training on topics such as inclusion; how to be supportive of LGBTQ; terms used to describe sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and differences between sexual orientation, gender equity and gender expression.
Those who complete UNK’s Safe Space training can receive a decal to display on their office doors or windows, which indicates their commitment to provide a Safe Space so LGBTQ people feel free to be themselves and safe from threat of harassment.
“We are committed to having a campus that is inclusive for all,” said Hinga. “This a positive, integral step in supporting student engagement, retention and student success.”
Writer: Todd Gottula, Director of Communications, 308.865.8454, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Mary J. Chinnock Petroski, Chief Compliance Officer, 308.865.8400, email@example.com
Source: Gilbert Hinga, Dean of Student Affairs, 308.865.8528, firstname.lastname@example.org