A university campus should feel like your favorite sweater — warm, protective and comfortable.
Hosted by the OUTreach Center and coordinated by the Office of Multicultural Student Life, the Safe Zone diversity training program seeks to ensure this atmosphere for the LGBT community, fostering education and acceptance in students and faculty alike.
Diana Moyer, a member of Safe Zone's Curriculum Coordination Committee, said that providing an environment in which students can feel at ease is one of the program's paramount concerns.
"It's a place where students don't have to hide who they are," Moyer said. "A lot of times, students do that because they face discrimination and hostility. So it's a signal that, 'hey, you can be who you are.'"
Without proper education from programs like Safe Zone, Moyer said it can be easy to wrongly assume expertise in regard to LGBT issues.
"A lot of people say, 'I have one gay friend, and I watch Will and Grace, so I'm all hip to LGBT,'" she said. "I'm like, 'No, not exactly.'"
Sophomore Chelsea Burnette, a child and family studies major and an Ally in the OUTreach Center, said she feels the program is well worth the three-hour time commitment.
"I think it's good for people to know that if they need help, they can go to a certain place for that help, and I think it's good for people to display that they are an Ally to everybody," Burnette said.
After completing the training program, participants can choose to display a Safe Zone decal in their offices or dorm rooms to show their support of the LGBT community.
Although only voluntary, Moyer said displaying the Safe Zone logo is a vital element of the program.
"We think it's important to have a very visual symbol," she said. "People walk by and say, 'Hey, what is that?' and it makes them think about issues of sexuality that maybe they hadn't thought of before."
Approximately 150 members of Safe Zone are listed on the organization's website, although Moyer said that number has steadily risen, making her optimistic about UT's stance on diversity.
"I'm glad we're a university that takes diversity, in all its forms, seriously," Moyer said. "We want to make UT a place that's welcoming to all students, and that's a big part of what the Safe Zone program tries to do."
Burnette is also impressed with UT's primarily positive attitude toward the LGBT community.
"There's an overwhelming support system here," Burnette said. "Just from going to the (Sex Week sponsored) drag show last year, I didn't know anything about it, but there were 500, or maybe more, students that went to watch and have fun."
Charlie Clifton, a graduate assistant in the OUTreach Center, says that the Safe Zone program is a beneficial opportunity to become an Ally or supplement the knowledge that existing Allies may already have.
"It's kind of a show of silent support, but you also have to be able to back that up," Clifton said. "And going to the session will kind of give you the materials to start doing that."
Safe Zone will host its next training session on Friday, Sept. 13. More information about Safe Zone and a link to sign up for the program can be found here.