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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Looking to Create a Safe Space at the Brook

“School Official Wants Gays Dead” read an Oct. 26 headline from The Advocate, a gay news organization, in reaction to an Arkansas school board member’s Facebook rant against the Oct. 20 “Wear Purple” day of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning, or LGBTQ, youth.
“Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE,” read the rant by Clint McCance, a School board memeber from Midland, Ark., complete with grammatical and spelling errors.

The widespread reaction to McCance’s statement and to the suicides of several young, gay men have pushed the bullying of gays to the forefront of the public debate on gay rights. Tyler Clementi, a Rutger’s student who committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, was a widely publicized case.

“How can you be an educator when you can’t support those who you are educating?” said Colby Allen, 21, a Stony Brook University senior and a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance, or LGBTA. “Regardless of religion and regardless of your political views, the fact is you have a job to do.”

In hopes of starting a domino effect that would end bias, the Safe Space program has been training volunteers – students, faculty and staff members –to identify and alter their own prejudices.

According to the Stony Brook Safe Space website, a Safe Space is “a space where it is not acceptable to use biased language or to judge people. People who are LGBTQ feel safer and more comfortable knowing that there is a place where they can go for assistance if they need it.”

A task force convened in 2007 by the former university president, Shirley Strum Kenny, and conducted a campus-wide survey.  It found more than 40 percent of LGBT respondents reported that they had seen harassment based on sexual orientation by faculty or staff over the past two years.

“While I know personally of incidents that have happened, they are not my stories to tell,” said Chris Tanaka, the special project coordinator at the Center for Prevention and Outreach.

In a letter to the campus community on Oct. 7, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. wrote that Stony Brook University “has an important responsibility to be a model of how diverse groups can come together to achieve a shared goal of higher learning within a context of respect for our differences, dignity, privacy, and our right to participate in this community free from harassment, discrimination, intimidation, or hostility.” He also said Stony Brook has become safer for LGBTQ members and referenced “ongoing work to bring gender neutral housing options in the Residence Halls.”

Stony Brook currently has gender neutral suites in Tabler Quad and gender neutral bathrooms in the Student Activities Center, the Stony Brook Union, Staller Center, Engineering Light Lab Building, Health Science Center and Mathematics. There are also gender neutral bathrooms in residence halls such as Hendrix College, Hand College, Mount College, Baruch College, Cardozo College, Gershwin College, Whitman College, Douglass College, Dreiser College, Sanger College, Toscanini College, Schomburg Apartments Commons, Hamilton College, Dewey College and Eisenhower College.

Tanaka said that she thinks he was saying there have been programs implemented to make Stony Brook a safer place. She doesn’t believe he was saying that the campus is definitely safer.

“I’m not sure if anyone can say that for sure without having another Campus Climate Survey,” she said.

“If Clementi had the option of gender neutral housing, so that he could have been living with somebody who accepted him and didn’t think being gay was a joke, he’d still be alive,” said Dakota Colf, 20, a junior and LGBTA member.

Tanaka said that gender-neutral bathrooms are needed for students who do not feel comfortable using gendered bathrooms. She said that bathrooms tend to be a place of high gender policing where peoples’ gender expressions are closely scrutinized. Gender-neutral bathrooms remove the assumption of who “should be” in that particular bathroom.

“Sometimes hate and intolerance is something that is passed down,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to unlearn things.” Safe Space teaches volunteers a new vocabulary — terms such as coming out, transition and heteronormativity — and it goes over day-to-day life experiences with its trainees as well. Safe Space has trained about 200 volunteers since it was founded.

“We’re still human,” Colf said. “We’re all humans. Blacks, whites, Muslims, gays. Everybody is human. We need to be able to coexist because there is enough war and hatred everywhere else in the world and we can’t keep hating the people we see and collaborate with every day because we are just creating war within our own country and within ourselves.”

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