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Creating a Safe Space and Sense of Belonging

June 6, 2023

Earlier this year, New York Tech offered a Safe Zone Train-the-Trainer session, where faculty, staff, and students learned about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality, and examined prejudice, assumptions, and privilege.

Upon completion, those who are trained will receive a sticker to display in their offices to let others know they are a Safe Zone trainer and open to talking about and being supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals and identities. In addition, trained individuals will assist with facilitating Safe Zone training sessions across campus.

Training is offered by facilitators in the New York Tech Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, as well as faculty, staff, and students who completed the Train-The-Trainer program. The Safe Zone Project, a free online resource, providing curricula, activities, and other resources for educators, was used to assist in developing the training.

The training included lessons in the five components of human sex, gender, and sexuality, as well as information on understanding trans identities; navigating conversations around privilege—meaning some people may or may not have an easier experience navigating certain aspects of life; tips for being an ally; communicating respectfully and responding to questions effectively; and exercises in various scenarios.

The Train-The-Trainer session was part of the New York Tech Safe Zone initiative, which is made up of two parts. The first part is training faculty, staff, and students interested in facilitator conversations about LGBT+ and gender-diverse individuals. This component takes a minimum of 8 hours. The second part is coordinating training that anyone can attend to learn more about LGBT+ and gender-diverse advocacy. This component is a 1.5- to 2-hour session, typically called Level I Safe Zone training.

“We are excited to move forward with this initiative to increase understanding about the experiences of gender diverse individuals,” says Evette Allen, Ph.D., assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion on New York Tech’s Jonesboro campus. “This is one of many training initiatives that will assist with goals for a positive campus climate and tools for courageous conversations to assist with inclusion. Such understanding and conversations are integral to creating equitable practices across institutions.”

New York Techs’ commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) goes beyond skin color or cultural background. The university looks at DEIB through a wider lens, incorporating religious differences, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic background, learning differences, and veteran status. “There are populations that go day to day being unnoticed or experiencing microaggressions, and we want to make sure we are providing opportunities for them to be seen, valued, heard, and included,” said Dean of Students Felipe Henao, Ed.D., in an interview with New York Institute of Technology Magazine.

Safe Zone training builds on the guidance already in place at New York Tech. In spring 2022, faculty and staff across the university’s campuses participated in diversity, equity, and inclusion training. “It’s important that everybody is on the same page in understanding the dynamics we’re talking about and the terminology we’re using,” said Brian Harper, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer and vice president for equity and inclusion, in an interview with New York Institute of Technology Magazine.

“We are institutionalizing efforts to create that sense of belonging so that everyone in our community can reach their full potential,” Harper said. “Ultimately, we want all departments and colleges to take on diversity, equity, and inclusion as something that they incorporate as a matter of routine into their operations.”