If Not Me, Then Who? – 10/14 Safe Zone Training

I never want to stop going to school.


Life-long learning, to some, might sound torturous. But school is about being more than just a student. (I am not going to use the word “magis.” Sorry.) Learning is about opening your mind to new experiences, and about developing the ability to evaluate every second of every day in terms of what you can do to make the world a better place. Maybe even a safer place.


Safety has definitely been on my mind the past few days. I know I’m not alone. What most of us could never imagine having to face is suddenly real to us. Terror is suddenly real to us.


Unfortunately, the nature of the world we live in implies a lack of reassurance and comfort. Fear is everywhere.


For instance: Over the summer and early in this semester, you may have come across troubling reports regarding the safety of the LGBTQIA community at our school. You may remember a Public Safety report in The Hawk from September, claiming that an individual was “taking down” Safe Zone stickers*. The Hawk also presented a cover article for this week’s issue regarding the incidents. In actuality, though, a person was covering over these stickers with a threatening message: “There is no safe zone at SJU.”


Take a minute to really think about that.


Someone had to feel so much animosity towards another set of human beings that they had to go out of their way to make that group feel scared and threatened.


They were saying, to me, and to other people across the gender-sexuality spectrum, as well as to our Allies:


“There is no place for you here.

We don’t want you here.

We want to harm you, simply because of who you are.”


…Unlike the threat that Philadelphia-area schools were made aware of on Sunday, this threat (a) was at our school, and (b) was specific in its target.


Where is the indignation? Where is the fear? Where is the email from security? In another example: Where is the (necessary & directed) anger when racial slurs are being written on the walls of our dorms? (Another Public Safety report that you may remember.)


Is it because these are targeted attacks on minorities? Is it really because the majority thinks: “that’s not me, so I don’t have to worry about it?”


While part of me refuses to believe that, I do know that at least some people hold that mentality. Far too many people do.


That reality struck me last week, when Kristin Beck, a former Navy S.E.A.L. who is a transgender woman, spoke on our campus. Kristin’s message was one of love and acceptance, of combating ignorance and working together for human rights for all people. She specifically spoke of the need to overcome the visible, first-impression differences that we automatically judge a person for, whether it be their race, their gender expression, their cultural or religious background, or their socioeconomic status.


Our differences divide us. A person can go from receiving gratitude for serving our country, to getting beaten on the street after undergoing a visible transition. And that is exactly what has happened to Kristin: she has encountered extreme physical, life-threatening violence just because of her outward appearance.


But that only motivates her to keep doing the work she is doing. Kristin speaks wherever she can to promote awareness and fight misconceptions about any specific community. She teaches that qualities of a person like valor, courage, and bravery – along with intelligence, charm, thoughtfulness – these are not gender-based. These are not racial. You cannot look at a person and judge their interior being, their intentions: their soul.


Yet, visual differences are the cause of so much suffering and strife. So much pain, death, and anguish are caused simply by what we can see. Trans men and women, especially trans women of color, are victims of incredible violence and hate crimes. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, “more than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.”


Kristin brought up an interesting point about perspective: many of us feel that public favor is growing towards transgender men and women. This is a perception that Hollywood gives us, that Caitlyn Jenner’s perfectly feminine features give us, that the 16-year-old trans boy or girl or non-gender-identifying person is going to see and say: “Hey, I can come out of the closet, and I’ll get a TV show and no one will hurt me.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. Trans people do NOT usually look like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. They do not have the privilege to look that way. When that side of privileged trans life is the only one getting attention in the media, that side is the only one gaining acceptance.


Kristin Beck is such an inspiration for continuing to be herself, for continuing to fight for human rights, to reach out so that violence and discrimination can ultimately be stopped. In her words: “Why not just talk to that person who looks different from you? You might just gain a friend.”


I am so thankful that I have found groups on campus who really strive to promote diversity and open-minded friendship. I encourage all of the SJU students, faculty, staff, and even (especially!) administrators who stumble across this blog to continue to promote events such as the one that brought Kristin Beck to campus. I implore people to become involved with the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and the Office of Multi-Cultural Life. I implore all of you to drink what a friend humorously called “passion syrup” – whatever the magic mix is that is going to get you involved and motivated toward a cause.


Kristin Beck’s greatest message, to those of you who missed the event, was that our generation has a responsibility to use our voices, from the smallest thing to the largest.


While I have investigated the Safe Zone sticker matter further, and I have received information that the individual person responsible for these threats has been handled appropriately, that does not reassure me of the existence of a campus-wide welcoming community for students who may be discriminated against elsewhere.


I don’t know exactly how to create such a community – I don’t know how such change could happen quickly. The problem is that even when we recognize that we have to take care of each other, no matter our differences, what do we really do? What effectual change can we make?


In line with that, I want to do what I can: because if not me, then who? I do my best to promote Safe Zone as a program, and I will continue to do that here


So here’s the promotion: Go to Safe Zone. Tell others to go to Safe Zone. 10/14 is the next one. Sign up here.


And then, take advantage of what Philadelphia has to offer. Your voice is louder when amplified by other voices of the city. Stay on the lookout for events and issues that you can take part in. (Just a heads-up: if you’re staying in the area for fall break, the Philly Trans March is on 10/10.)


I will try to do my best to be an active student, to be more than a student, now and for the rest of my life. I will try to implement the tools that I have (social media, this blog, the Hawk, my own mouth) to amplify my voice, too.


What will you do? I hope you choose to prove that Saint Joe’s is safe, for LGBTQ persons, in addition to all other varieties of human life.


*If you don’t know what SafeZone is, find out more at http://www.sju.edu/int/resources/alliance/safezones.html

Posted in: Magis & Jesuit Identity, Multicultural Diversity, Student Life