Safe on Campus promotes LGBTQ allyship, inclusiveness at Western

Contact: Erin Flynn
Flag poles in front of the WMU Aviation Education Center.

The pride flag flies at outside the Aviation Education Center.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Diversity, equity and inclusion are core values of Western Michigan University, and the Safe on Campus program is among a number of initiatives focused on making sure all Broncos have the space they need to thrive.

"Safe on Campus helps to create more resources, safety and inclusion campuswide," says Nathan Nguyễn, director of Western's Office of Lesbian, Bisexual Gay and Transgender (LBGT) Student Services.

The three-hour educational training is available each semester to all students, faculty and staff. It focuses on what it means to be an ally to LBGT students; strategies to support people who are coming out; the complexities of sex, gender and sexual orientation; and respectful language to use. Those who complete training get a placard to post on their door or in their office, indicating it is a safe space for individuals to come for help or with concerns.

"Any kind of visibility, even little things like a rainbow sticker, are so important to asserting our presence on campus and our right to be here," says Makenzie Marts, program assistant in the Office of LBGT Student Services. "(It's) an affirmation that, even if there is always more institutional equity work to be done, you are wanted, you are respected and you are valued."

Buster Bpronco carries the Pride flag.

While lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) visibility and equity are celebrated nationally every June with Pride Month, advocates continue to fight against injustice.

"Historically speaking, LGBTQ folks faced massive oppression—culturally, systemically and institutionally. Due to this overt discrimination and oppression, many LGBTQ folks found unhealthy coping mechanisms and had higher adverse health outcomes," Nguyễn says.

He notes students who are excluded, harassed or discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity have historically performed lower academically than their peers.

"A program like Safe on Campus is important to create inclusion; provide a sense of 'normalcy' to LGBTQ identities; bring awareness and create empathy for anyone who identifies differently; save lives; and increase the rate of matriculation."

"More and more freshmen I meet now have been out since they were 12, have gay-straight alliances at their high school and have parents who are eager allies. But as wonderful as that is, it will never be true for everyone, and for the students who come here still uncertain, still afraid to be open about their identities, it's those little nods of acknowledgement that can make all the difference," adds Marts, who earned bachelor's degrees in sociology and gender and women's studies from Western in 2018.

"When I came to Western as a freshman in 2014, it was something as simple as a button that said, 'Have you hugged your queer Bronco today?' that made me feel like Western could really be somewhere that I could not just survive—but thrive."

Nguyễn has trained nearly 450 people since joining the staff at Western in 2016. He hopes to continue to increase the number of trained allies across campus and encourages those whose training happened more than five years ago to sign up again for a refresher course.

"I chose to take the Safe on Campus training to gain knowledge on the LGBTQIA community, terminology and things that I can apply to my own way of thinking to be more inclusive. Everyone deserves to be a part of this family and I do not want them to feel otherwise," says Billy Clayton, scholarship and enrollment officer for Army ROTC at Western, who completed the training earlier this year.

A student stands on stairs wearing the pansexual flag as a cape.

Western hosted the student-run Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference in February 2020.

"I believe this program exercises WMU's call to action to improve diversity, equity and inclusion," he adds. "The ability to sit down and have a conversation, gain knowledge, then go out and apply that knowledge is the reason this institution exists. And by taking the Safe on Campus training, I have been given some tools to do just that."

Jasmine Warren, a graduate intern in Western's Mentoring for Success program, has taken the Safe on Campus training twice and proudly displays the placard in her office.

"I wanted to have something to be a sign of inclusiveness. When it comes to talking to me, I want students to feel like this is a safe space to talk to me about anything," Warren says.

She remembers what it was like seeing visible expressions of LGBTQ acceptance as an undergraduate student at Western exploring her own identity.

"It made me feel a little more comfortable. And then I met more people, specifically more Black people who are in the LGBTQ+ community, and it made me feel even more comfortable because there was someone who looks like me who could possibly identify with some aspects of who I am in terms of intersectionality."

Increasing inclusive spaces can also improve well-being, reinforcing the University's commitment to dismantling systemic barriers for historically marginalized groups.

"Having additional allies and voices can bring new perspectives and show that creating inclusion will not only help those that the LBGT Student Services office serves but the entire campus community," Nguyễn says.

More information on the Safe on Campus program, as well as how to sign up for training, is available on the Office for LBGT Student Services webpage.

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