Safe Space Program Begins Second Year with Expanded Training Sessions

Safe Space, a program created to provide a safe haven, a listening ear and visible support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) people on the medical campus, will begin its second year of workshops on March 14. Originally a training exercise for faculty and staff, Safe Space is expanding and will also be offered to students in 2016.

The Miller School of Medicine’s Safe Space program (there are programs with the same name and similar aims on other campuses) was founded in 2014 by Robert W. Irwin, M.D., in his former position as Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, in partnership with several medical students who were committed to improving LGBTQ sensitivity on campus. Now that Irwin, associate clinical professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, has been named interim Chair of his department, he has been searching for a partner to be involved with the program.

He found one in Sonjia Kenya, Ed.D., M.S., M.A., Director of Community Health Programs at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Jay Weiss Institute for Health Equity. Kenya is also the Education and Research Officer at the Miller School of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Multiculturalism, which is joining forces with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation to administer the project.
“I am excited to help expand Safe Space as it enters its second year,” said Kenya. “My contributions will ensure that more faculty, students and staff participate in this timely training, which prepares the Miller School of Medicine to better serve the LGBT population on campus and in our local community.

“This year, we will also focus on adapting the program for our student population and generating more research publications from the data that has been collected thus far. In 2015, two research presentations on our Safe Space program were conducted at major conferences, and in April, students will present two more research projects at the LGBT Health Workforce Conference in New York City.”

Safe Space’s goal is to combat homophobia and heterosexism, and to create a supportive and nurturing environment, where diversity is valued and appreciated. The 1-1/2-hour sessions provide an opportunity for participants to learn about issues affecting the LGBTQ community, as well as tools that enable participants to be informed and effective allies as they go about their daily lives. The discussions address such topics as competency training for clinicians treating LGBTQ patients, and behaviors, myths and values associated with LGBTQ patients.

“The support from Dr. Kenya and the Office of Diversity and Multiculturalism will ensure that more of our colleagues participate in Safe Space,” said Irwin. “In fact, Dr. Kenya and I are already considering new ways to adapt the training to become even more efficient. Specifically, we are exploring options to adapt Safe Space to an interactive online platform, and we will be piloting an alternative model to determine if the training can be effective with large groups.”

After completing the Safe Space workshop, participants are given a Safe Space sticker/magnet that identifies them as someone who is sensitive, supportive and respectful to the LGBTQ community, as well as to those questioning their sexual orientation. Participants will display the sticker in their workplace on campus.

To date, more than 100 UM faculty and staff have participated in the Safe Space training and completed evaluation surveys indicating that the program is effective at improving knowledge of the unique challenges facing LGBTQ students, as well as awareness of language and behaviors that are non-inclusive to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“We’re serious about changing the climate, and our Safe Space data indicates we’re making progress,” said Irwin. “Ultimately, Dr. Kenya and I would like Safe Space incorporated into the orientation processes for all new hires, just like other mandatory training topics, such as sexual harassment.”

Safe Space sessions, limited to 15 participants, are held on the second Monday of each month, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., at the Don Soffer Clinical Research Center, room 975. Interested people may register by emailing Ana Maria Quintana Gonzalez at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). More information about Safe Space can be found here.

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