Students, faculty at Commerce campus take first steps in creating ‘safe spaces’ at university

MAKING PLANS | Career Services employee Gregory Shirley takes notes on the Safe Space presentation. (James Bright/Dallas Voice)

JAMES BRIGHT  | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

COMMERCE — Students and faculty at Texas A&M University-Commerce recently took the first steps in establishing safe spaces on the school’s campus.

English professor Dr. Robin Reid and school counselor Dr. Emile Cate held a planning meeting April 14 to set up a committee to create the safe spaces. “Our goal is to take over everything and make the entire campus a safe space,” Reid said.

The meeting centered around discussion of how to set up a safe space system on campus. The current plan is to model the structure of A&M-Commerce’s safe space initiative after the one already in use at Texas A&M-College Station, which Reid said has been well established for some time.

“The safe space is an educational and outreach program,” Reid said. “It’s really an ally program to speak out and say people have rights and people have access to equality.”

The program will allow for several areas on campus to be denoted with some sort of symbol that will tell students, faculty, staff and community members that the area is a safe space.

These areas can be marked with a number of symbols and be located in offices, recreational areas and even entire buildings.

“It’s very much tied to training that people would then post the material and make visible the symbol of equal rights,” Reid said.

The initial primary goal of implementing this program, according to Cate, is to get students, faculty and staff trained in the safe space system on campus.

“We are hoping to have this done by early fall, so we can have people going out and giving these presentations across campus and the community,” Cate said.

Specific training events will be set up, according to Reid. There will be several different opportunities for people of varying involvement whether they are students, faculty, or community members to learn from these classes.

“We need to setup some discussion and support groups that students will feel comfortable going to,” she said.

Cate said all members of the counseling department were well trained and value all issues of diversity including those involving the LGBT community.

“We are available,” she said. “Everyone is ready to give support to the students and the issues they might be experiencing.”

More than 30 people attended the meeting, representing different groups on campus. There were several students who said they had experienced discrimination in class and wanted to learn how they could help educate those on campus.

The program also drew the attention of several different organizations on campus, including career development, and several faculty members such as Mary Hendrix, vice president of Student Access and Success.

Over the next few years, Cate said, she hopes the safe space program will filter to all parts of campus and the community.

“We need to establish a foundation and embed it in the campus culture,” Reid said.

The meeting concluded with a discussion over the committee’s mission statement and suggestions from several students on what wording should be changed. Once the discussion was finished Reid broke the group up into several sub-committees to discuss marketing, web development and training.

—  John Wright