Safe Zone course trains students, addresses LGBTQ+ community

Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski (pictured above) designed the Safe Zone Train-the-Trainer course with the objective to highlight LGBTQ+ issues on campus and to educate students on how they can become an ally. Rutkowski hopes to foster a welcoming community at Geneseo that emphasizes respect and safety (Chloe Shay/staff photographer).

The Safe Zone Train-the-Trainer course was created by associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski, who has been involved in the Geneseo community for over 16 years. 

This selective class began in the fall of 2017. It involves an application process and an interview in order to be considered. This course offers a syllabus full of scholarly reads that address LGBTQ+ issues and abstract thinking that helps students understand the needs of the LGBTQ+ folk on campus. 

Students and faculty may be familiar with the rainbow Geneseo Safe Zone stickers that cover the laptops of allies across campus. In order to receive this sticker, one must attend and complete a three-hour Safe Zone lecture. During the lecture, participants are taught basic LGBTQ+ terminology, various pronouns, transgender identities and most importantly, how to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. 

One of the main goals of the Train-the-Trainer class is to create new facilitators for these safe zone lectures, along with a possible internship that works on various LGBTQ+ issues on campus. This course is important because it recognizes that LGBTQ+ terminology is constantly changing and that no one is perfect.  

Before this course, Geneseo sought outside knowledge from Rochester-based LGBTQ+ group The Out Alliance to train their future safe zone facilitators.   

“We used to use The Out Alliance to help train students, but I realized that students needed more practical experience as facilitators,” Rutkowski said. “It also helps students take a class that may feel like an extracurricular, something they would participate in anyway, but actually be represented in their rigorous coursework.”

This course gives future facilitators a safe and judgement-free space to learn about various identities while being able to practice facilitating safe zone lectures before presenting to students, faculty and staff.

A motivation for creating this course was to provide students with a larger platform to think about themselves while building a safer community here at Geneseo. This course attracts students of all different backgrounds with the intentions of educating the Geneseo community on how they can advocate and be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community. 

While this course has only been around for less than three years, Rutkowski still focuses on its future potential. 

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need this course anymore,” Rutkowski said. “If we get to a point where people don’t have to come out and feel overall safe, then we won’t need to put such an emphasis on how important these issues are but until then, I am thrilled to play this role at Geneseo where all members of its community should feel welcomed.”