EMS Educational Equity office first to be named 'Safe Zone'

Sonya Wilmoth, left, assistant director of the Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource Center, and Victoria Sanchez, associate dean for educational equity in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, place a Safe Zone sign near the EMS Educational Equity office’s front door. The office is the first at Penn State to receive office-wide Safe Zone certification, which signals to students, faculty and staff that the office is an inclusive, comfortable space for everyone. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ (EMS) Educational Equity office has been named a Safe Zone, the first at Penn State to receive office-wide certification.

Safe Zone is a University-wide program designed to raise awareness and visibility of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally (LGBTQA) population at Penn State; to understand the issues facing LGBTQA students; and to become aware of available University resources.

The EMS Educational Equity office, located in 204 Deike Building, fosters and advances diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within the college. The office received the recognition after all of its staff completed the necessary Safe Zone training, which includes training sessions that provide the foundation necessary to become effective allies for LGBTQA students.

“Having everyone in our office complete the training allows us to signal that the entire space in our office is an inclusive, comfortable place for all students,” said Victoria Sanchez, associate dean for educational equity.

After completing the training sessions, each member of the office’s staff received an individual Safe Zone card to display, and the office earned a rainbow Safe Zone sign that is displayed near the office’s main door. The sign symbolizes inclusion and invites LGBTQA students into an accepting environment.

“Everybody has earned the right to be a part of the Penn State community,” said Sanchez, “and it is important that we make that clear. That means demonstrating inclusion, not just saying it.”

The EMS Diversity Council hopes to gain additional Safe Zone certification for other individuals and offices within the college.

“We want the College of EMS to be a safe haven for all,” said Martha Traverse, assistant to the associate dean of undergraduate education and member of the EMS Diversity Council. “A Safe Zone sign on the door signals to the LGBTQA student body, as well as faculty and staff, that a particular office is welcoming to everyone.”

Sonya Wilmoth, assistant director of the Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource Center, which is spearheading the Safe Zone initiative across the University, emphasizes the importance of having a welcoming community for prospective students, too.

“It’s important for prospective students to know that our Penn State community is supportive of everyone,” Wilmoth said. “They should be able to comfortably start and continue their education and not be fearful of being who they are.”

The center also advocates for more offices at Penn State to acquire the certification.

“One of our biggest goals is to encourage more offices to become fully certified so that students across the University know that there are safe places for them to go,” said Wilmoth.

For those interested in earning individual Safe Zone certification, the LGBTQA Student Resource Center, located in 101 Boucke Building, will be offering additional training sessions during the fall 2016 semester. For information on the training sessions, visit

Last Updated November 01, 2016