VirTual Safe Zone campus model
A new campus model for personal and professional development.
VirTual Safe Zone: a new campus model for personal and professional development
Perceptive eyes will have noticed colorful new placards popping up across campus. These certificates of completion are being distributed by Virginia Tech’s newly renamed Pride Center as part of its VirTual Safe Zone training program. Participants who have completed the training program are awarded with a reminder of their commitment to helping Virginia Tech become a more welcoming and affirming place for LGBTQ+ individuals.
To earn a VirTual Safe Zone placard, participants must successfully complete three, five-week, online training courses consisting of weekly readings, writings and live discussions facilitated by Virginia Tech faculty. While VirTual Safe Zone 101 and VirTual Trans Safe Zone 101 are required for all participants, individuals can choose from several VirTual Safe Zone Electives to complete their training. Current electives offered include LGBTQ+ U.S. History; Black, Queer Voices of 20th Century America; and Asexual and Intersex Identities and Experiences. Each section is capped at 10 participants to support an intimate but lively discussion.
Registration links for VirTual Safe Zone are typically available up to two weeks prior to each training session. At that time, registration is posted in Virginia Tech News and in the Pride Center newsletter. Upcoming session dates are as follows:
Fall 1: Sept. 11 – Oct. 13
Fall 2: Oct. 23 – Dec. 1 (no class the week of Thanksgiving)
Spring 1: Jan. 22 – Feb. 23, 2024
Spring 2: March 11 – April 12, 2024
Summer 1: May 20 – June 21, 2024
Summer 2: July 8 – Aug. 9, 2024
Those interested in joining a VirTual Safe Zone will find there are two ways to do so. The first as an individual and the second with a cohort wherein small groups are able to complete the training together. These cohorts can be beneficial to participants who may feel more comfortable being in conversation with people they already know, and it provides more space for individuals to discuss how they can apply what they are learning in the program to the work that they do in their office. If you are interested in creating a cohort section for your office, please reach out to Haleigh Wallace (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set this up.
Safe Zone trainings, believed to have been founded at Ball State University in the early 90s, have become a campus staple for institutions across the nation. Broadly speaking, these trainings are designed to educate participants on relevant queer and trans concepts and issues in the hopes of creating new allies and advocates over the span of a few hours. Virginia Tech’s own Chase Catalano has spent years studying the impact and trends of Safe Zone training programs across colleges and universities.
Virginia Tech’s Safe Zone program was created in 1998 as a collaborative effort between the Dean of Students, HokiePRIDE of Virginia Tech, the LGBT Caucus; and the Office for Equity and Access (formerly the Office of Equal Opportunity). During the summer of 2020, after a period of inactivity, the program underwent a thorough redesign led by former facilitators and Dr. Bing, director of the Pride Center. From this work, Virginia Tech’s current VirTual Safe Zone program was born. Those familiar with university Safe Zone programs, however, may be surprised to find the typical 2-4 hour training model replaced by a five-week commitment. "The new design requires a greater time commitment from participants and offers a deeper scope of understanding in return,” said Dr. Bing.
While the virtual aspect allows for participants to engage from their homes, offices, and other campuses, other changes were made to support transformative education. "Our VirTual Safe Zone program offers participants the opportunity to engage in weekly readings that present diverse perspectives, while also encouraging self-reflection through discussion boards and group conversations” said Haleigh Wallace, assistant director of Virginia Tech’s Pride Center. “I think the level of depth – both in terms of the wide variety of topics that are covered and the ways that participants are encouraged to engage with those topics on a personal level – is unique compared to some of the other Safe Zone programs that are out there.”
Since 2020, multiple sessions have been offered during the fall, spring, and summer semesters resulting in over 300 faculty, staff, and students completing the first of three required trainings to earn their own placard. “For many folks, queer and trans people included, educational materials like those that are used in our VirTual Safe Zone program are either hard to find or out of reach, overwhelming, or legally and/or socially banned from certain contexts,” Dr. Bing explained. “Queer and trans liberation is integral to all other liberation movements. Partial liberation cannot and does not exist. It’s important that folks are provided the opportunity to see their own experiences as closely linked to that of others.” This year, the VirTual Safe Zone program is expected to confer its 100th placard.
For questions or more information about the VirTual Safe Zone program, please contact Haleigh Wallace at email@example.com.