For my project I propose to conduct first hand research surrounding safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ students in our university. The primary question of this research is: how effective are safe spaces in our university setting? The aim is to use a number of research questions to determine the effectiveness of these spaces. This will include building a definition of a safe space with the help of students who use and help actualise safe spaces in the university and determining the extent to which safe spaces around the university are easily identifiable and succeed in their aims. This will incorporate emphasis on stickers and signs that declare public spaces, such as the library, as safe spaces and whether this is a claim that can be supported. By asking students how they feel about such labels declaring safe spaces, as well as speaking to library staff about how they uphold the safety of those utilising the space, I aim to find out how reliable and appreciated safe spaces around the university are.
The research method will use qualitative questionnaires, preferably conducted through in person interviews although written answers would also be an effective collection method if coordinating interview time with people is not possible due to my limited time on campus. In addition to thoughts on the definition of safe space, questions that may be used include the influence of the university context on the effectiveness of the safe space, identifying safe spaces around the university and ascertaining which spaces students utilise.
I have found several articles about research surrounding safe spaces, especially in relation to LGBTQI+ youth and the importance of having a safe space in removing a sense of isolation and developing identity. One journal article focuses specifically on the importance of libraries as a place of free and equal access to information where LGBTQIA+ people can access information and be treated with respect while connecting to the wider community, especially in remote areas (Day, 2013). The article discusses the importance of providing people with the knowledge that they are not alone by providing posters and reading lists that support LGBTQIA+ people and attempt to educate the general public (Day, 2013). My research intention is to find out if strategies such as this are effective.
Two other articles outline the importance of alliances, peer support and safe spaces in high schools (Fetner et al, 2012; Ratts et al, 2013). These articles are focused on American and Canadian students that are obviously younger than university students but both highlight the importance of effective safe spaces in learning environments (Fetner et al, 2012; Ratts et al, 2013). A British study interviewed students about feeling different, isolated, and unable to find others like themselves as well as the positive effect a safe space can have (Crowley et al, 2007).
This range of articles show that research surrounding safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ people is a vast area of interest to a range of people and qualitative research methods are common in finding the feelings of people that use these areas (Day, 2013; Fetner et al, 2012; Ratts et al, 2013; Crowley et al, 2007). I have not yet found research specific to Australian universities and am interested in developing my own understanding of this area through this research project. This could also have the potential of helping groups in the university who coordinate and promote safe spaces by increasing knowledge on how students view safe spaces and how to make safe spaces more noticeable and effective or continue to support existing spaces that already fulfil the goals of a safe space at university.
Day, S 2013, ‘Libraries as LGBTIQ Venues’, Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 46-50.
Fetner, T, Elafros, A, Bortolin, S & Drechsler, C 2012, ‘Safe spaces: gay-straight alliances in high school’, Canadian Review of Sociology, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 188-207.
Ratts, MJ, Kaloper, M, McReady, C, Tighe, L, Butler, SK, Dempsey, K & McCullough, J 2013, ‘Safe Space Programs in k-12 schools: creating a visible presence of LGBTQ allies’, Journal of LGBT Issues in Counselling, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 387-404.
Crowley, C, Harre, R & Lunt, I 2007, ‘Safe Spaces and Sense of Identity: Views and Experiences of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young People’, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, vol. 11, no. ½, pp. 127-143.