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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Searching for safe spaces on campus

Illustration by Suzanna Leung

By Allayana Darrow

Controversy surrounds the idea of safe spaces and the kind of campus cultures they cultivate. Most of the controversy is definitional: whether safe spaces provide resources, are support centers where students can be safe from harm, places of like mindedness or places to avoid interacting with those who think differently.

During a discussion at the University of Chicago, Van Jones, a political and civil rights activist and former adviser to President Barack Obama, said the definition of a safe space that benefits college communities is a place where one can feel “physically safe on campus, not being subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse.”

Setting up a place for students to be ideologically and emotionally isolated and to shield oneself from difficult conversations is dangerous to college campuses where ideas are meant to be exchanged, evolved and challenged, Jones said

According to University policy, “The university is committed to ensuring equal opportunity and prohibiting illegal discrimination and inappropriate behavior in all aspects of employment and for students in educational and extracurricular programs and activities.”

However, incidents of racism and sexual assault are still hot-button issues on Western’s campus, showing Western’s need for spaces where students can feel safe.

Throughout the 2017-18 school year, Western students received over 12 Western Alerts from University Police describing incidents of indecent exposure, voyeurism and lewd conduct.

In May, a 57-year-old Bellingham man was charged with voyeurism and stalking after students reported witnessing the man taking photos and video of female students under the desks in Wilson Library. The man is not a Western student or faculty member.

In spring of 2015, the U.S. Department of Education opened two Title IX investigations into how Western administrators handled sexual abuse reports.

During the investigations into sexual assault reports, University President Sabah Randhawa told the Bellingham Herald that complaints and reports are handled by Western’s Equal Opportunity Office, instead of by the assistant dean of students.

March of 2018 saw several acts of antisemitism. On March 12, staff discovered antisemitic language in several books within the Jewish Studies section of Wilson Library. On March 15, a faculty member discovered a swastika drawn on a poster outside their office. On March 21, Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg reported more books were vandalized in the Jewish Studies section.

In response, Western held a reshelving ceremony on April 10 where 120 items were added to the Jewish Studies section.

In November of 2015, Belina Seare, AS President at the time, received threats on the social media platform, Yik Yak. One comment by Tysen Campbell read “let’s lynch her” in reference to Seare, who is African-American. This sparked discussions and demands about safety, inclusion and equity for minority students. Campbell was charged with malicious harassment but charges were eventually dropped.

Seek out Western’s safe spaces if you experience any form of discrimination, fear or if you just need a place to turn to in a time of need.

LGBTQ Safe Zones

The university website states, “The Safe Zone Program is a visible network of volunteers who are committed to creating a community of respect and dignity for queer students, staff, and faculty and those who may be questioning their identity.”

Queer allies can be identified by a pin, sticker or other visible object on their person or office.

“Queer Resources Center (QRC) provides non-judgemental and unbiased programs, safe space, and resources to both students who identify as Queer and their allies.”

Substance Counseling

Alcohol and other Drug Consultation Assistance Services provides a confidential service for students to ask questions about using substances.

ADCAS advertises their goal is to allow students to make informed decisions about what they experiment with during their college experience.

DisAbility Resources

DisAbility Resource for Students provides support for students with permanent or temporary disabilities. Academic accommodations and counseling are available through this resource.

Ethnic Student Center

“Our goal is to help students Affirm their identity, Build a sense of community, and Cultivate leadership (our ‘ABCs’).” The Ethnic Student Center hosts and sponsors more than 16 ethnic student clubs.

In 2016, 63 percent of students approved a $30-per-quarter fee to expand the ESC to five times its previous size and include more resources and activities.


Visit Western’s Veteran Services office for support or to learn more about veteran benefits. Look for a Veteran Safe Space sticker on office windows and posters.

Mental Health

Western’s Counseling Center provides students with group counseling, mental health assessment appointments, couples counseling, mental health workshops and short-term individual counseling.

The Student Health Center also provides resources if you need to speak with a doctor.

Sexual Assault

Western requires all new students and employees to complete Haven, an online sexual violence prevention and response training.

Western’s Policy on Preventing and Responding to Sex Discrimination, Including Sexual Misconduct requires ongoing training for permanent staff and tenure-track faculty on responsibilities and procedures surrounding cases of sexual harassment.

Contact Western’s Equal Opportunity Office to report cases of sexual harassment or assault. For support, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services offers helplines and walk-in appointments to those suffering from abuse.

Active Shooter or Campus Emergency

Western Students Against Gun Violence organized a staged walkout to propagate active public engagement in discussing gun violence after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in March 2018. Students left their classrooms during the event, laid in Red Square and drew chalk outlines of themselves.

Students and staff raised concerns about classroom without locks, and the lack of refuge spaces in case of an active shooter.

Western’s official policy is “Hide. Run. Fight.”

There are signs posted around campus advertised as an “Area of Refuge” often with an accompanying disability-friendly logo. These signs mark spaces to occupy during a fire or other emergency.

Contact Resources

Consultation and Sexual Assault Support


Old Main 585B

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services



1407 Commercial St., Bellingham, Wash.

University police


Public Safety Assistants “Green Coats”


Office of Student Life


Viking Union 547

Equal Opportunity Office


Old Main 345

Queer Resource Center


VU 515

Ethnic Student Center


VU 420

Prevention and Wellness Services


Western Veteran Services Office


Old Main 280

Student Health Center


2001 Bill McDonald Pkwy, Campus Services, Second floor

Counseling Center


Old Main 540

Alcohol and other Drug Consultation and Assessment Services


Old Main 560C


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