Students who visit any of the offices that are a part of Student Affairs at Jacksonville State University may notice small, green stickers reading “Safe Zone +” on their doors.
Only the offices of Student Affairs have this sticker, begging the question: What does it mean?
Dr. Timothy King, Vice President of Student Affairs at JSU, has the answer. “What it means is if you’re a student, or a member of faculty and staff, and you’re feeling like you need to talk to someone about something that is troubling you,” if you see one of those stickers, you know that is a safe place to go.
The green stickers indicate that the office to which they are affixed participates in the Safe Zone Plus project, a program that Dr. King implemented at JSU a year ago.
King originally intended it to be a support program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) members of the JSU community.
He decided to expand the program after a hazing event involving the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in November 2011 left a student recovering in the hospital from internal injuries for 24 days.
Now the Safe Zone Plus project encompasses “difficulties or crisis due to... sexual orientation, gender identity, being the victim of crime, hazing, bullying or sexual assault, and/or... discrimination due to... mental health status, disability, race, religion, ethnic or national origin.”
Its purpose is to “provide advocacy, guidance, and compassion for students” who are experiencing any of the above, according to the Safe Zone Plus section of JSU’s Division of Student Affairs website.
“It’s really a program based on providing students and anyone else with a place to come and talk freely about whatever is on their mind that’s troubling them or a problem they’ve encountered,” says Dr. King.
If the student needs more assistance than simply a safe place to talk about issues affecting them, Dr. King says that Safe Zone Plus advocates are trained to escort that student to either Counseling Services or the University Police Department, rather than refer them to those services.
“If you’re here with me, I take that to mean you are in a crisis situation,” he says. “People in a crisis situation don’t need to be told where to go; they need to be led there.”
A possible resolution to a crisis situation could be that Safe Zone Plus pairs the student with a mentor—someone who has endured a similar experience and can help the student overcome it.
Most other colleges have programs similar to JSU’s Safe Zone Plus, and King participated in them at each of the other schools he’s worked at.
When he arrived at JSU, he “knew we needed something,” but wasn’t quite sure what.
The project “just evolved over a couple of years of investigating what would be appropriate for our campus,” he says.
JSU’s version of Safe Zone is unique, because while other schools offer support programs to LGBT members of their communities, few have expanded that support to victims of hazing, bullying or crime.
“I get phone calls all the time from other schools who want to replicate what we’re doing,” says King.
Over the summer, Dr. King says he plans to develop a training manual for Safe Zone Plus advocates at JSU.
Some situations, like sexual abuse and crime, have reporting requirements—as the Title IX coordinator for JSU, Dr. King must be informed if any student suffers from those crises.
The training manual will inform faculty and staff participating in Safe Zone Plus of what must be reported, as well as the correct procedure for doing so.
“I wanted to make sure that we had a good grip on what we were doing before I went out and starting giving those green stickers to everybody,” says Dr. King.
“I don’t want to put someone in a situation where they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to do and then make the situation worse.”