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Safe Spaces: Helping Students Be Themselves At Jenks

Panic room. Emotional protection zone. Safe haven. Outcast club. The triggered retreat.

The term “safe space” connotes a plethora of conflicting ideas, and the quizzical looks and uncomfortable “umms” of fellow Jenks students when asked about the term means that we need to find out what safe spaces are and how they fit into Jenks High School.

From the definitions of Merriam Webster, Oxford Dictionary, and Google Dictionary, a Safe Space is a place intended to make people feel safe from discrimination.

English teacher Cathy Koehn is most familiar with the Safe Zone Project, which is a safe space oriented towards the LGBTQ+ community and people who want to have respectful conversations about sexuality.

“I really think that to provide more of a safe community rather than a safe space, the education needs to start higher up with the adults and the administration, teaching them what transgender means, teaching them what it means to be fluid in your sexuality because when you’re a kid, that’s not set, and we don’t want them to set it this early,” says Koehn. “We’re not advocating sexuality here. Knowing oneself is what we’re actually advocating.”

Koehn holds Safe Zone meetings every Tuesday at 4:00pm in room 6132.

“As far as teacher who would be willing to discuss LBGTQ+ issues, I know probably a dozen,” says Koehn.

She is confident that almost any faculty member would be ready to discuss other immediate problems.

“Classrooms that weren’t designated safe spaces yesterday can suddenly become safe spaces as circumstances and dynamics shift between students and teachers,” says Joy Edwards, a Jenks High School English teacher.

She finds that her classroom has accidentally (but happily) become an unofficial safe space. Her classroom is not labeled as a safe space, either, unlike Workin, who has a poster beside her desk, or Koehn, who displays a large, colorful bulletin board outside her door.

“It’s not advertised,” says Edwards. “I never campaigned for it– it just started happening. I accredit the kids more than me for that.”

Edwards claims that the birth of the safe-space-environment really came around last year, when a group of seniors and juniors started hanging out after class, and they continued to revisit.

She lets these students talk and makes sure they know that she’s there if they need her.

“The safe space has to be as judgement free as possible,” says Edwards. She and students admit that “sensitive” topics are tossed about in the classroom, and even when things get spicy, she says, “I don’t shut it down– I don’t think [shutting it down] is safe at all, to tell you the truth– and I’m not here to regulate it or moderate it either,” however, “I tell them that if you are in this room and I feel like you’re in danger I will [get help to you].”

Edwards’s ten-year-old daughter, Edie, is often chilling in mom’s classroom after school, snacking on goldfish and tossing a plastic football around with Trojan Torch reporters and the such. Edwards acknowledges that Edie’s present through the tough discussions.

“We talk around her,” says Edwards. “We have a code. That is one thing that I’m picky about… but [the students] are pretty good at censoring themselves.”

Edie smirks at her mom’s remark and chows down on more goldfish.

Edward’s student-led safe space is not exclusive to LGBT nor does the conversation primarily revolve around the topic; this safe space is a practicing ground for meaningful conversation in all areas of life and for fearless individual expression.

Keep in mind, safe spaces aren’t the Safe Places that found at Quiktrips or libraries, which “designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place locations, making help readily available to youth in communities across the country.” (nationalsafeplace.org) In other words, the safe place is a area for kids who need to escape an immediate threat from strangers, friends, and family.

“Rules are simple [for safe spaces],” says Koehn. “You don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to be there. You just have to be willing to show respect.”

To learn more about safe spaces, take a peek at the embedded links and speak to Koehn, Edwards, or Workun at the high school.

By Charlotte Suttee

Categories: Local

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