Haven Provides 'Orientation' Education, Students Judgment-Free 'Safe Zones' On Campus
|Some of SHSU's many Haven diversity advocates include (bottom, from left) Maryam Ilahi, Counseling Center; Nicole Wilkes, College of Criminal Justice; Kyle Kindred, School of Music; (top, from left) Nathan Koch, School of Music; Wally Barnes, SHSU Reading Center; and music therapy major Grant Howarth. —Photo by Brian Blalock|
Early on in his position as a resident adviser at Sam Houston State University's Lone Star Hall, Justin Hooten knew that students would come to him with all kinds of problems and questions—even when it came to matters of the heart, like exploring and identifying their sexuality.
"We have the opportunity to be on the frontline in a positive way or a negative way," said Hooten, a 21-year-old biology major. "I chose the positive way."
That's why Hooten displays a sticker outside his door. It says "Haven," a unique program on campus that supports the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Intersex community. The "V" in Haven is a bright pink, an inverted triangle—the international symbol of gay pride and gay rights.
The sticker is a visual cue that Hooten has received Haven training.
"We're simply doing 'training 101,' an introduction to what we call Alphabet Soup, because we focus on Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Queer questioning, Intersex, Asexual, anything like that," said Maryam Ilahi, a psychologist at the SHSU Counseling Center. "Our main goal is for everyone to know what resources are available to students in that community."
The hour-long session covers definitions, heterosexism, current events, history, myths, and how to be an ally at SHSU. Allies are not necessarily those who identify as LGBTQI but are active supporters of equality.
Become a Haven Ally
Wednesday, Nov. 6
Space is limited to 30 and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Register with Maryam Ilahi at 936.294.1720 or email@example.com.
Ilahi said the training is not about acceptance and it's definitely not about tolerance, a word that has a negative connotation; it's a little bit about affirmation, she said, but a lot about education. It's available to students, staff and faculty.
“The purpose of the Haven trainings is to provide education and awareness about LGBTQI concerns, as well as promote inclusion and advocacy on campus so that faculty and staff members can provide a ‘safe zone’ for the LGBTQI community, where they can go to discuss issues without having to worry about being discriminated against or admonished for their sexual orientation,” Ilahi said. “A big part of the Haven training is focused on how to be an effective ally for the LGBTQI population."
Approximately 45 students and 30 faculty/staff participated last year.
Among the things Haven training asks its participants to consider are issues of heteronormativity—that is, the idea that heterosexuality, and the gendered social roles associated with heterosexuality, is the only “norm.”
These could include referring to an unmarried woman as “Mrs.” (signifying marriage) instead of the more generic “Ms.” title, or referring to someone’s spouse as “husband” or “wife” (assuming heterosexuality) instead of using “partner.”
"I don’t think it’s intentional,” Ilahi said. “People who have never been exposed to someone from the LGBTQI community may not even realize that those things have an effect on people; there’s just a lack of awareness. Through Haven, we really want to emphasize education and raising awareness; it’s not a matter of projecting one’s opinions or values onto other people.”
This year’s Haven training, scheduled for Nov. 6, will bring together students, faculty, and staff for the purpose of “exchanging cross dialogue and discussion,” taking cues from last year when the trainings were separate for employees and students.
“Several students, faculty and staff commented that they wished they could have more conversations with each other to understand one another’s perspective regarding LGBTQI. Faculty and staff said they would like to hear more from students, and students, in turn, said they would like to hear and see faculty and staff take an interest in LGBTQI concerns,” Ilahi said. “Having one Haven session for everyone could help improve mutual understanding.”
And the trainings appear to do just that. Responses by those who have attended are, on the whole, positive and encouraging of others to attend.
“Many participants say that they were challenged to think differently, questioned their assumptions about the LGBTQ population, and that they now think about what life must be like for members of a population who constantly face prejudice and discrimination on a personal and governmental level,” Ilahi said. “The comment I hear most often is, ‘I learned a lot more than I thought I would.’”
Haven finds a home
Drew Miller, executive director of counseling and health services, recognized the need for a program like Haven when he arrived at SHSU in 2005.
"Several clients were coming to the counseling center, talking about their experiences on campus," Miller said. "A lot of the stories were similar in the sense they didn't feel welcome, or had discrimination aimed at them from a fellow student, or even staff/faculty members. I could see the impact that was having on their overall mental health and their connection to the university. We started talking about what might be helpful, and came to the conclusion that some good education would be a benefit."
Miller said students who feel they have to hide their identity may suffer long-term effects.
"There can be increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety, you can see changes in how the students feel about themselves, they compare themselves against their peers and feel less valid, less worthy, less like they have the right to belong or be a part of something," Miller said. "Even if they are active in the classroom or on campus, they start to feel like imposters. Because of that, they simply don't feel as though they can be their best selves while on campus, which then affects academic performance and how they feel about the university."
Haven was officially founded in January 2008 and continues to serve as a resource network for LGBTQI students. Haven has also partnered with Gamma Sigma Kappa, the campus student-led, gay-straight alliance.
"Despite what people label us, the people of the LGBTQ community are humans just like everybody else," said Gilisa Walls, a 22-year-old graphic design student who identifies as lesbian. "We shouldn't be judged or attacked for who and what we are. When working with people in general you will come across a lot of diversity in different groups. I think it's important for people to go through Haven (training) for that reason alone."
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