Creating safe spaces

By San Diego Community College District

Districtwide programs and initiatives aim to increase awareness and promote inclusion so that all members of the LGBTQ+ community may thrive

“Community isn’t just something you find, virtually or otherwise,” penned San Diego Miramar College alum Edward Borek in his 2021 short story titled “To Find Community.” “And that’s because, to find community, you have to build community.”

And that is exactly what Borek set out to do during his time as a Jet and now as an employee.

When he enrolled at Miramar College in fall 2020, isolation resulting from the pandemic was very evident in his life. Borek, who had been laid off from his job that summer and was living alone, said that he was desperate to find some sort of community.

“Everyone was feeling the pangs of pandemic loneliness,” he said. Knowing school was continuing on virtually, he decided to reach out to every Miramar College club he could. That is when he met Laura González, a professor and the faculty advisor for the college’s Club Spectrum, a LGBTQ+ student organization, who invited him to a club meet-and-greet event online.

While the first Zoom meeting had many attendees, subsequent encounters became just Borek and another student. So, Borek took it upon himself to help build up the community by promoting the group during other club and student government meetings and creating a website for Club Spectrum.

Eventually, he went on to become the club’s president, as well as the college’s Associated Student Government president and a student representative on the San Diego Community College District’s board of trustees and Miramar College’s LGBTQ+ Alliance, a student and employee advocacy committee. It was in these positions where Borek was able to further advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, including an added amendment in the ASG constitution to recognize preferred pronouns and increased availability of gender-neutral bathrooms — of which there are currently five at Miramar College and more than 30 districtwide.

“A lot of work had been laid out before me,” he said. “Bringing Club Spectrum, as well as the LGBTQ+ Alliance and the District Queer Alliance, into the fold — recognizing them as important stakeholders — was important to me.”

By the time Borek graduated with his associate degree in business administration in spring 2022, Club Spectrum was having regular, well-attended events, including virtual game nights, providing volunteer opportunities at campus food distributions, and participating in community events like the San Diego AIDS Walk and Pride Parade, the latter of which the District has participated in since 2015.

Increasing Awareness

Borek isn’t the only one advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community to make sure the District has available safe and welcoming spaces for this historically underserved population.

In 2017, González, who introduced Borek to Club Spectrum, developed a Safe Zone training program for Miramar College based on programs she attended at other District colleges and online open access training materials. Today, she and District Research and Planning Analyst Jaime Sykes Seiverd together educate faculty, administrators, and classified professionals with a program that provides knowledge about LGBTQ+ language, tools to increase inclusivity in the classroom and in the workplace, and ideas to build a more sensitive environment. While each SDCCD college has its own Safe Zone training process, González and Sykes Seiverd, as well as additional campus employees, including classified professional Anna Liza Manzo, and San Diego Mesa College Pride Center Coordinator Lucio Lira, are working toward standardizing a districtwide program.

Through Safe Zone training, “We want to create an environment in which everyone can be their authentic selves with dignity and respect,” González said. “We want to provide not only education but also practical things that people can do to support the community in their workplace.”

At Miramar College, a list of those who have been Safe Zone trained and consent to having their names listed – approximately 120 to-date – is published on the college’s LGBTQ+ Resources page. Similarly, at Mesa College the Ally/Out List is available as a resource noting those faculty, staff, and administrators who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community or allies who proudly serve as advocates for respect, inclusivity and acceptance.

“While I think there is a lot that needs to happen beyond Safe Zone trainings to ensure LGBTQ+ students feel included, supported, and valued for who they are, I think the Safe Zone program is a positive step forward,” Sykes Seiverd said. “It provides committed college employees with the ability to better support their students, knowledge of how to move forward when they make a mistake, and how to see and accept students for who they are and not who they are assumed to be.”

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San Diego Community College District

is located in San Diego, California.