In a time of national tragedy, Erica Volkers was moved into action.
The tragedy was the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016, one of the deadliest incidents of violence against Latino and LGBTQ individuals in American history.
Central New Mexico Community College’s (CNM) dean of communication, humanities and social cciences (CHSS) began thinking about how the college could learn from such a heart-wrenching attack.
This article comes from the AACC 21st-Century Center.
“For me, it was the Orlando shooting that created a renewed commitment to being proactive,” Volkers said, “and making sure we were doing everything we can at CNM to create safe and inclusive spaces for our LGBTQ students and employees.”
That renewed commitment led to a regular set of resources for faculty, staff and students, including training, community events and more.
Safe zone training
One of the first ideas put into place to support LGBTQ students was CNM’s Safe Zone Training, created in spring 2017.
Modeled on the University of New Mexico’s Safe Zone Training, which includes activities and resources from the national Safe Zone Project, instructors developed the three-hour workshop to help CNM faculty and staff learn how to provide friendly, respectful and useful guidance to students, including in the classroom and during office hours.
“A key motivation for developing the training was to create specific visibility for members of the CNM community who are out or allies, and who want to be resources for LGBTQ students and each other,” said instructor Zac Shank.
The demand for that training was much higher than anyone expected.
“One of the things we’re learning as a result of conducting these trainings is how interested faculty and staff are in learning to talk about issues of inclusivity,” Shank said. “In Safe Zone Training, specifically, many faculty want to know about gender and how to be respectful in using correct pronouns to align to students’ gender identities.”
After completing the training, participants can also request to be added to CNM’s out/ally list, which identifies faculty and staff who have agreed to provide a safe environment for students to talk about sexual-orientation or gender-identity issues. So far, nearly 200 faculty and staff members have completed the training and 93 have joined the out/ally list.
Preferred name request
Another idea put into place as part of CNM’s set of resources for LGBTQ community members was to make it easy for transgender and non-binary students to inform CNM of their preferred name and gender pronouns (“she” or “he”). A transgender student can use the gender pronoun they identify with the most instead of the one assigned at birth.
The college’s dean of students office worked with the academic affairs team to develop the request form and updates it each term.
Although some formal requirements, such as federal financial aid, make it difficult to use a student’s preferred name, the goal is to eventually grow the project and enable students to use the name they are most comfortable with in more places, such as email username and display name on learning module systems.
Over the past few months, the facilities department also has updated signage around the college to note bathrooms available for use by any gender. These are single room, private and lockable bathrooms in public areas or in administrative areas that anyone can use. A list of the college’s inclusive bathrooms is kept online.
CNM also has hosted more events on and off campus, like the 2018 Pride Parade and an on-campus event in support of National Coming Out Day that highlighted resources for LGBTQ community members along with a panel discussion.
The college is creating safe spaces on campus, such as Q-Study Hall. Hosted by faculty and staff, these sessions are held in classrooms or tutoring labs and offer an opportunity to work on assignments and socialize with allies or members of the LGBTQ community. Currently, Q-Study Hall is offered at three campuses.
Volkers sees all of these efforts as part of the bigger picture for CNM, and making sure that students of all backgrounds and experiences are welcome.
“Creating safe and inclusive spaces is the right thing to do, and it’s an important way for us to communicate that we value each and every student coming to CNM to create their own future,” she said.