A short but impactful ceremony, the 7th Annual Safe Zone Awards on May 21 left attendees dabbing their eyes. The ceremony, although assembled rather casually under the fluorescent lighting of the Circadian, played host to a number of tearful reflections on the daily struggles of undocumented and LGBTQI+ students and the work done by faculty to support them.
PCC’s Safe Zone Coalition is an on-campus team that seeks to create more support for these minority populations. Since its birth, the group has given yearly awards to recognize faculty members for their outstanding work toward this goal.
This year, unlike other years, the Coalition honored a multitude of people for their support. Rebecca L. Cobb, Dean of Student Life, was named LGBTQI+ Ally of the Year. Recognition for allyship to the undocumented student population was given to both Dr. Robert H. Bell, Assistant Superintendent and Senior Vice President of Noncredit and Offsite Campuses, as well as the Ad Hoc Learning Committee, consisting of: Dr. Tony S Juge (Associate Professor of Sociology), Kris Pilon (Visual Arts & Media Studies), Kathy Kottaras (Assistant Professor of English) and Dr. Christopher West (Assistant Professor of History).
“Having dealt with faculty say ‘I’m not going to call them that.’ and to have to have students sit in front of me, saying, ‘I don’t feel safe going into these bathrooms,’” said Cobb, whose advocacy for the LGBTQ+ on campus has included single stall restroom availability, among other things. “So what I do is this big compared to how they show up every day as themselves. Every day no matter what we, as an institution, do to them. They show up every day.”
The Safe Zone Coalition formed officially in the spring of 2012 to address campus safety for these two marginalized groups. Based on established training materials regarding faculty respect for undocumented students and focus groups of both LGBT and undocumented students, the Coalition developed educational trainings on how to better serve them.
“Our training is very interactive and it’s not about shaming, it’s about educating and helping folks become aware of how they can support the students that we work- well, we work for students!” said Dr. Cecilia D. Medina-Adamo, Counseling Faculty and founding member of the Coalition. “It’s not just faculty, but it’s folks who are in administration, folks who are in the classrooms, but folks who are working in all aspects of our campus.”
Today the Coalition consists of 8 members of faculty, classified staff, and campus members. To date, they have trained over 900 faculty and staff on the PCC campus as well as staff at several other local colleges, including West LA College, Cal State LA, and LA Harbor.
“The leadership Cecilia provided was very collaborative and community-building,” said Dr. Cynthia D. Olivo, who received the first Ally of the Year award after attending the first ever Safe Zone training at PCC. “It made it a safe way to get training. That’s why they’ve trained almost 1000 people on campus to be allies.”
The Coalition aims to open a learning center and safe zone on campus to support these impacted populations within the next year. The Ad Hoc Learning Committee, honored specifically for their advocacy for this project, was formed approximately a year and half ago and has lent their support to various student issues as they arise.
“Basically we’re a network with each other, try to figure out how to make a difference. How do we engage? How are we there? How are we present,” said West, in tears after describing a student from undocumented family who feared for her future after acceptance to her dream University. “It’s not about us. We truly appreciate the award. But it truly isn’t about us.”