English professor spearheads Safezone training

 Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski coordinates the Safezone program and will offer a Safezone training course in the fall. She currently teaches in the English, women’s and gender studies and American studies departments. Her research interests include LGBTQ+ studies and Civil War era literature. (Keith Walters/Campus Photographer)

Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski coordinates the Safezone program and will offer a Safezone training course in the fall. She currently teaches in the English, women’s and gender studies and American studies departments. Her research interests include LGBTQ+ studies and Civil War era literature. (Keith Walters/Campus Photographer)

Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski has an extensive and significant presence within the Geneseo community. In addition to teaching courses in the English and American studies department, she has expanded her work to the women’s and gender studies department, where she will teach a Safezone “training the trainer” course in fall 2017. 

The Safezone program attempts to “increase awareness and acceptance of sexual diversity, while providing a resource network for individuals with questions or concerns related to sexuality.” Having joined the Geneseo faculty in 2003, Rutkowski coordinates the Safezone program. 

Before her teaching career, Rutkowski earned her master’s degree in women’s studies and English. Continuing her education, she then completed a doctoral degree in English. In her dissertations, Rutkowski focused on female writers of the Civil War and reconstruction era. Since then, she has found a secondary research interest in LGBTQ+ studies. 

“My interest in LGBTQ+ and trans studies has really sparked over the last 10 years,” Rutkowski said. “During that time, I’ve been working with a lot of students on various advocacy projects.” 

Back in 2013, Rutkowski hosted the first LGBTQ+ committee at Geneseo to address the need for all-gender bathrooms and expanding the Safezone program. From these committee meetings, the Safezone program—having seen an increase in interest—developed into a three-hour workshop for “potential allies.” 

“Every semester, we offer usually four open trainings for Safezone certification,” Rutkowski said. “In addition to the two faculty and two student trainings, any group of six or more can request their own certification training.” 

Within the current Safezone program, between 35 and 50 trainers organize and execute the certification workshops, according to Rutkowski. Concerning student trainers, however, the program suffers from frequent turnover each fall, after many students graduate. 

“We used to bring in the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley to train the replacements for graduating student trainers,” Rutkowski said. “It seemed to me, however, that the students who were trained in the process needed and wanted more practice in facilitating difficult discussions.”

To combat the problem of student trainer turnover, Rutkowski proposed a class that would, over the course of a semester, “train the trainer.” Planning to offer this course every fall, Rutkowski believes that this solution will allow students more time to practice, read and think about the material. After completing the course, students will have the opportunity to move into leadership positions—including outreach and programming—for credit. 

“During the next year, I’m hoping that a more robust process and network will come from the class,” Rutkowski said. “After a few semesters, I hope to see the course giving the program more structure.” 

In addition to her Safezone training class, Rutkowski will be co-teaching an American Studies course with associate professor of history Justin Behrend in the fall. Like Rutkowski, Behrend shares a similar research interest in the Civil War and Reconstruction periods of American history. In their joint-American Studies class, the two will lead an examination of the legacy of slavery, primarily foregrounding black authors and artists.  

Rutkowski’s passion for LGBTQ+ studies have made a huge impact in providing a safer environment within the Geneseo community. Considering the current political climate, Rutkowski’s efforts are vital to upholding Geneseo’s standards of being a tolerant, welcoming community for future students.