The Safe Zone Project A free resource for creating effective Safe Zone Workshops Fri, 10 Feb 2017 23:08:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Curriculum for our 3rd Birthday — version 3.0! Mon, 18 Jul 2016 18:34:02 +0000 Three years ago today, we launched website complete with a 2-hour Ready-to-Rock, and totally free safe zone training curriculum. And that curriculum has been on quite the adventure! Since we started tracking downloads (two years ago) there have been over 11,000 downloads from 98 countries (578 last month alone).

As we’ve seen conversations of LGBTQ inclusion and sensitivity become more mainstream, we’ve also helped safe zone trainings expand beyond colleges and universities to health care organizations, domestic violence survivor advocates, and national non-profits. And we’re constantly excited to hear of more and more organizations starting educational efforts towards marking their environments more LGBTQ affirming and inclusive — whether they’re using our materials (hooray!), other folks’ (hooray!) or creating their own (hooray!).

Today is our 3rd birthday. And (as seems tradition at this point) we’re sharing our birthday present with you: A shiny new version 3.0 of the curriculum! (Link to download in top right of this and most other pages.)

Every page in the 3.0 curriculum got an tweak or an update and while some changes are small, we’ve got some new additions and complete overhauls as well.

What’s new in v3.0?

  • New cover design (oooh la la)
  • New activity (Fearfully Asked Questions)
  • New handout (Coming Out Handout)
  • Restructured timelines and activity flow
  • New Genderbread v3.3 lecture
  • New vocab terms; tweaked language in old ones
  • Updated and overhauled language and formatting in all activities
  • More detailed debriefing questions (with suggested learning outcomes)

We’re really excited about all the changes in the 3.0 curriculum and definitely believe it is our best, most facilitator-friendly, and up-to-date curriculum to date. It’s not done, and we’ll likely have a version 3.1 sooner than later fixing small tweaks, but we’re proud of what we have to offer. Beyond that, we’re thankful for all the feedback, input, and ideas generated by the crowd.

Here for you!

All of the materials on are offered to you for free and completely uncopyrighted which means you can use them, evolve them, and share them however you like. We’ve even shared this 3.0 curriculum with you in Microsoft Word version to make it easy to edit and modify for your use.

Curriculum = Content; Unlocking the Magic = Process

If you’re interested in creating the best experience in your Safe Zone workshops solid content it important and it is only half the battle. Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation is a book that we wrote to help folks learn key concepts in facilitation that they can use to improve their trainings and workshops. If this sounds up your alley check out Unlocking the Magic (physical book, e-book, and free pdf download) here.

As always we here at are excited to support all of you in your educational efforts and trainings and if there is anything you need to do gender or sexuality training better (that we can help with!), don’t hesitate to let us know — yo [at] thesafezoneproject [dot] com.

Happy Birthday SZP!

Meg & Sam

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All Star Facilitator Series – Meet Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation Wed, 23 Mar 2016 21:17:37 +0000 On August 1st 2014 Sam and I shared a post about the series of articles we were calling the All Star Facilitator Series and Sam kicked off that post with this quote,

Meg and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share with you the announcement that our All-Star Facilitator Series is officially open to the public. Couldn’t. Be. More. Thrilled.

Well. Turns out 1.5 years later we could in fact be more thrilled. Little did we know that those 11 things we believe to be integral to all-star facilitation would over the next 17 months morph their way into a book.

Enter: Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation: 11 Key Concepts You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know.


It even has stars on the cover and EVERYTHING.

Many of the All Star Facilitator posts translated directly into chapters in the book.  Including:

  • role modeling imperfection
  • the difference between facilitation, teaching, and lecturing
  • how to read a group
  • how to navigate triggers
  • the importance of the “yes, and…” rule

We believe this book is intregral to our work here on in sharing with you grab-and-go educational tools and activities. If you’ve ever had a subject you loved taught by someone who was not engaging, you, like us, agree that how we engage others in learning matters just as much as the content itself. Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation is all about ensuring that facilitators have the tools needed to create powerful learning opportunities for their participants, and that y’all using our curriculum to do important LGBTQ+ awareness work do, too!

You can read more about the book here, and there are a bunch of ways to get your hands, digitally or physically, on the book:

If you loved the All-Star facilitation track… get ready to unlock some #facilitationmagic.

With love!

Meg & Sam

LGBTQ+ Terminology – An Evolution Over Time Tue, 05 Jan 2016 14:26:26 +0000 When we started the Safe Zone Project one of the first activities that we created was Vocabulary Extravaganza an activity that focused on sharing and understanding many of the many words related to gender and sexuality.  While it was one of the first activities we compiled it was also one of the hardest.  Definitions are tricky enough, and attempting to define identities that are evolving as we sit down to write them, raises the bar even higher.

Over the years (it has been 2.5 years since we first published the site) we have received feedback on many of the words and definitions.  From our in-person workshops, the wonderful folks we connect with online, and many kind and thoughtful emails we receive from those who use our resources, we get some wonderful feedback that helps us continue to improve and evolve our definitions.

A few days ago we had the pleasure of connecting with the folks at The Guardian newspaper who asked us for definitions they could use in their 2015 Gender Dictionary.  We are excited to share that updated* post and its accompanying, newly updated Vocabulary Extravaganza activity!

While The Guardian didn’t include this disclaimer in the article, we think it is important to own that this list is neither comprehensive nor inviolable. With identity terms, trust the person who is using the term and their definition of it, above any dictionary. We don’t claim ownership of these definitions, they are part of the cultural commons, curated by us, but created by the many emails, online discussions, and in-person chats, we have had over the years.  We will continue to hone and adjust this language with the goal of creating definitions resonate with at least 51 out of 100 people who use the words.  We will continue to change the language as the culture changes its meaning. 

Let us know what you think of the definitions, help us evolve our 2016 list, and maybe give a little hat-tip to The Guardian for helping share some of these common and less-than-common words with the world!

Cheers 2015!

Meg & Sam


* If you read The Guardian post prior to Dec 30th, you likely read definitions different from the ones that you will read now.  The editors of The Guardian used an older edition of a lot of the words and graciously updated the post as soon as we pointed it out! 

To 2016…and Beyond! Tue, 05 Jan 2016 01:25:53 +0000 In 2015 we got to do many of the things we love to do (and many of those things… with all of you!)  We got to connect and collaborate with hundreds of people, travel around the country both physically and digitally, and talk to a bunch of passionate folks looking to make the world a better, more welcoming, more affirming place.

Thank you. For any of y’all who downloaded our curriculum, attended one of our online trainings, or invited us to visit — we thank you for the connection, for the energy, and for the big and small environments you’re making better by being you.

We learned a few things during this 2015 from our many adventures.

  • We learned that just like the big movies, our video outtakes are wayyy more entertaining than the finished product.
  • We learned that keeping your answers simple and knowledge level appropriate is way harder than not doing that.
  • We learned you can facilitate a two-hour online workshop from a cell phone (but we don’t recommend it).

We learned (reconfirmed really) that folks taking the time to offer kind and constructive feedback is invaluable to making our resources, our teaching, and our content better.

And we’ve got a lot more learning to do and to share with y’all in 2016.  Want a little glance at what’s in store?

We’re also excited to share a brand-new organization that will be an integral part of the Safe Zone Project (namely the umbrella part), hues.  Hues is an organization and resource hub, and one of those resources is The Safe Zone Project. This doesn’t change much in the way we operate (especially considering Sam is the director of hues and Meg is an advisor), but legally we are now organized a little differently.  All that said, hues is something we are really excited to share with you and encourage you to explore!

We are so thrilled to continue to do more of what we love to do, help y’all spread the important knowledge of gender and sexuality to your campuses and communities.

Please never hesitate to give us a shout and let us know what you’d like to see in 2016 and how we can help!

Cheers to a great year, and to the next!

Meg & Sam

SZP Co-Creators launch a Kickstarter! Read more! Tue, 20 Oct 2015 15:17:29 +0000 Hello Safe Zone Project-ers!

We have some exciting news for you…Sam and I are getting married! Just kidding — not doin’ that. (Sorry, Jessica.) We are, however, taking a few big steps together and co-creating another project!

Our newest project (we hope*) is called FacilitatingXYZ: A Free Online Resource for ALL Facilitators. It’ll be a website where folks who are passionate about facilitating can watch videos, download chapters and discussion guides from our forthcoming books, and create community with other facilitators!  We are so excited about this project, because it — like The Safe Zone Project — is exactly the resource we wish we had had when we started our journeys as facilitators (and would love to have right now).


But there is a twist.  That little * after hope is very important because for this project we need your support.  We want to create an amazing resource website and some engaging high quality videos, but we can’t do it alone.  So TODAY we’ve launched a kickstarter campaign to help make that goal a reality and let our supporters help make FacilitatingXYZ into the resource we know it can be!  


We have some really cool rewards on this Kickstarter that we think you’ll be interested in, like early access to our forthcoming books!

Oh yeah, also we’re writing a book! Actually, two books. Because the best things come in twos!

Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation will be the first book we’ll be releasing and is all about the 11 key concepts every facilitator needs to know, but doesn’t know they need to know.

A Guide to Facilitation includes the concepts from Unlocking the Magic, as well as: the foundations of socially just facilitation, how to piece together the elements of a training, and lessons for finding your facilitation style.

These two books will be coming out soon (Unlocking the Magic this year, Guide to Facilitation next), but you can get early access, exclusive content, and more by supporting the Kickstarter!

To learn more about FacilitatingXYZ and to support all of our shiny new projects, head on over to the Kickstarter and take a look around! We really appreciate you taking the time, supporting us, and hope you’ll help us share this newest project with the world!

To new projects and double rainbows!

Meg & Sam

2nd Annual Birthday Post! Two Years Old and New Curriculum to Match! Thu, 23 Jul 2015 19:18:04 +0000 Its been two wonderful years since this website first launch! We’ve added new activities, started the all-star track, and are even working on a new book to help y’all get your Safe Zone facilitation-on.

The big birthday present today though is a seriously updated curriculum!

What’s New in Version 2.0!

We’ve been at work over the course of the year keepin’ track of feedback (feedback!) on the Ready-to-rock curriculum and we are ready to say 2.0 is ready y’all.  We’ve made  changes, additions, and modifications that we feel will make this packet ever more helpful and useful in your quest towards Safe Zone Training superb-ness. 

What we added that we think you’ll love!

  • All star tips – these are little tid-bits at the end of many of the activities that relate back to how to become an even better facilitator for these Safe Zone Trainings.  These often relate (and link!) to our All Star Series articles so that you’ll know which skill we think is most applicable to certain activities.
  • Updated vocabulary – we’ve added some refinement and major changes to our terminology and included some new words in our list!  We’ve also added pronunciations to the most common words that get folks all twisted.  Shout out to all the feedback we got on vocabulary we tried to include and incorporate all the suggestions we received!
  • Improved activities – Almost every activity in the packet has been modified and improved.  These are some of the highlights

First Impressions – new worksheet – we’ve separated out gender identity and sexuality

Privilege for Sale – modified the privileges to be more poly-inclusive, added links and a new guiding questions (and changed up the name modified name!)

Scenarios – we’ve taken out our suggestions for scenarios as we’ve gotten feedback that every group is so different and we recommend writing your own for your population, (you can find higher education examples here! and medical oriented scenarios here) and added a new wrap up section featuring the platinum rule

Genderbread 3.3 – we’ve overhauled the Genderbread activity with a new worksheet, new lecture, new… everything. We’ve added another handout to help you suss out the difference between the L, G, B, T, and Q of LGBTQ.

  • Resources page – We’ve also added a resource page for participants to continue learning and educating both from us and other awesome resources around the web!  This resource page is not only included in the facilitator and participant packet you can also see an even more complete listing right here on the Safe Zone Project website! 

We’ve also made the curriculum downloadable as both a PDF and a word document!  This is to ensure that any modifications that you want to make it is easily and accessible to do!  (read more about our uncopyright here)

We did remove a few things from the original curriculum to try to tighten up the training and make it even more possible to fit it all into those tight two hours!  The coming out story can still be found in the activities section!

Let us know what you think! yo [at] thesafezoneproject {dot} com!  What do you need, what do you want to see in version 3.0?!

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Happy Birthday to Us: Two Big Announcements for You Tue, 05 Aug 2014 19:48:31 +0000 Instead of expecting a gift from you, we decided to give you a bunch of cool stuff instead! If it’ll help, you can consider this one of those reverse-birthdays. You know. Those are a thing, right? (They aren’t?) I’m being told they aren’t. Okay. Well this is awkward now.

But we’re doing it anyhow: Happy Reverse-Birthday!

Two New Things, One Improved Thing

We’re now offering two brand new things that we got a lot of requests for throughout the past year. One is a resource helping facilitators get better at facilitation and the other is online safe zone trainings. You can read a bit more about each right below, or read our press release way below.

Presenting: The All-Star Facilitator Series

All-Star-Series-SZPImproving the quality and consistency of our safe zone curriculums around the country was one of our main goals when we launched this project. But the ultimate goal was to create better safe zone trainings. The logical next step toward that overarching goal, once we published our curriculum and activities, was helping facilitators do their thing, better.

That’s what we’re hoping to do with the All-Star Facilitator series. Like the rest of the Safe Zone Project, this will be a forever work in progress, but we launched with ten core lessons that will help any facilitator better accomplish the goals of a safe zone training. And we’re hoping our fellow social justice educators out there will submit lessons and help us as we build on the series in the future.

Presenting: Online Safe Zone Trainings

online-trainings-social-cardWhen possible, we always recommend in-person, intimate safe zone trainings. But, over the past year, we’ve come to terms with the fact that that is not always possible, and some training is always better than no training.

After doing a few pilot tests for online trainings using Google+ Hangouts last month, we were pleased with the results. To quote Meg, “It was much more like a normal training than I would have guessed.” We’ll now be offering online trainings on the second Saturday of every month, with registration on EventBrite (and scholarships available for folks for whom the cost is prohibitive).

Improving: Train-the-Trainer Program

For the past year, we offered the ability for folks to bring us in and have us train their group to facilitate their own safe zone trainings (call it the “teach a person to fish” method), but what, exactly, we were offering was unclear. Well, consider that cleared up.

Our goal with this project was to create a resource that stands on its own, and allows you to have everything you need to create safe zone trainings wherever you are, but we understand that some folks need extra help. We’re here to help.

The Press Release (for interested parties — copy/paste/reblog willy-nilly)

The Safe Zone Project Celebrates its One Year Anniversary

AUSTIN, Texas (August 5, 2014) – Last week marked the one year anniversary of the launch of The Safe Zone Project, a free online resource created by social justice advocates Meg Bolger and Sam Killermann to equip educators with the tools needed to start productive conversations amongst students and to create safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ community. In honor of the project’s first birthday, Bolger and Killermann are rolling out several exciting additions to The Safe Zone Project, including online safe zone trainings, an All-Star Facilitator Series, and their first train-the-trainer event, which will take place at San Jacinto College.

Since its launch, The Safe Zone Project website has provided a catalog of exercises and activities for anyone to use, but its premier offering is a comprehensive two hour workshop curriculum, a guide full of activities designed to help facilitators create dialogue and understanding amongst students who may not be familiar with LGBTQ issues. This curriculum has been used by over 1300 educators in 16 countries, and several thousand more have taken advantage of the individual activities on the website.

As part of the anniversary roll out, Bolger and Killermann will be facilitating online safe zone programs on the second Saturday of every month to intimate groups limited to eight participants, who are able to sign up for the courses through The Safe Zone Project website. They are also launching an All-Star Facilitator Series, starting as a ten lesson online program to help facilitators improve their skills in leading social justice workshops. Bolger says, “It was important for me that we build the all-star series, because it was the thing that I really wanted when I was a peer educator.” Lastly, the duo will be holding their first train-the-trainer event this August at San Jacinto College, where they will be conducting several in depth training sessions for members of the faculty and student body in order to prepare the participants to lead their own safe zone sessions.

Reflecting on their first year, Killermann says, “As I’ve been traveling the country, it’s been great hearing from folks all the different ways they’re using the project. I hope our updates will meet some needs we left unmet and inspire more educators to get involved.”

Meg Bolger is a gay/lesbian/queer-identified social justice educator facilitator who was drawn to social justice, gender and sexuality work through her experiences with creating a safe zone training program from scratch during her time as an undergraduate. She has since founded Pride for All, an organization dedicated to creating fun and interactive diversity and leadership workshops centered around the topics of gender, sexuality and social justice.

Sam Killermann is an ally, advocate, and social justice comedian, blending humor into much of the work he does. In addition to performing his one man show with a message, It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, for the past several years around the country, he is the author of A Guide to Gender, a full exploration of gender from a social justice perspective.

You can find out more from their website

11 Invaluable Lessons on the Path to Becoming an All-Star Social Justice Educator Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:21:49 +0000 Meg and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share with you the announcement that our All-Star Facilitator Series is officially open to the public. Couldn’t. Be. More. Thrilled.

To get you started, here are 11 things we believe to be integral to all-star facilitation. We’d love for you to share your own lessons in the comments down below!

1. Realizing that the “perfect” facilitator isn’t someone who knows everything, but someone who is comfortable admitting they don’t.


2. Understanding the difference between facilitation, teaching, and lecturing — and knowing when to use each.


3. Tapping into your personality, the things about you that are uniquely you, will benefit the group more than trying to be someone you’re not.


4. Social justice education is as much about listening as it is about talking. Knowing how to read a group tells you when to do what.


5. You cannot speak on behalf of a group identity. But you need to know how to respond when someone [inevitably] asks you to.


6. Knowing beforehand what might emotionally trigger you will allow you to better temper your response when it happens.


7. Embracing that you didn’t always know what you know, and were once just learning about social justice concepts yourself, will help you connect and empathize with others.


8. Telling someone “No” or that they are “Wrong” will shut them down. Instead, it’s important to know how to say “Yes, and…”


9. Reflecting on your facilitation and experience, and giving yourself critical feedback, is necessary if you’re going to continue to improve.


10. Be cognizant of identity, remembering that while there are times when aspects of a person’s identity become more or less apparent, that identity is always present.


AND #11. Remember that social justice is an interconnected, global movement that requires all hands on deck to be realized. Oh, and so is The Safe Zone Project.

So, maybe, you know, if you have the time and everything, you might want to get involved? 🙂

Mastering the “Yes, And…” Rule Fri, 01 Aug 2014 19:00:41 +0000 I was a pretty big fan of improv comedy when I was in high school, but I didn’t truly fall in love until I started to learn and perform it when I was in college. I’ve stopped performing and moved back into the ever-more-comfy role of fan, but there are a ton of indispensable things I learned in improv that I use on a regular basis today.

One of the universal rules of improv also happens to be a rule that leads to welcoming, inclusive, and interactive social justice trainings: the “Yes, And…” rule.

I would like to give credit of my introduction to the “Yes, and…” rule to Ms. Tina Fey’s book Bossy Pants. Now your experience reading (or listening in my case) Bossy Pants may not have been to say, “OMgosh that is totally like what I do with social justice stuff,” buttt that’s how my brain works. So cheers to you, Tina Fey!

It’s a Simple Rule

If someone presents a reality to you, however ridiculous it may seem, you accept it and build upon it, sometimes redirecting toward something you’re more comfortable with, and sometimes continuing down the rabbit hole they’ve created. More simply, you don’t tell someone no. You respond “Yes, and…”

The way it plays out in improv is the scenes are more fluid, fun, and you end up in places that no individual in the troupe would have ever gotten to.  It’s a shared experience, and everyone has agency and some responsibility in creating it. It also cuts down on arguing, authoring other people’s experiences/choices, and judgment.

To return to the Bossy Pants reference, Tina Fey says if you were in a scene and someone said, “I have a gun!” and you responded, “No you don’t! You’re just holding out your finger!” well.. that wouldn’t go very far would it?

The way it plays out in a social justice training is about the same. Your group members will feel safer chiming in, sharing their thoughts and ideas, and the discussions will flow more naturally. You won’t be seen as the Sole Authority Who Has All Answers, and the entire group will have a shared sense of responsibility and say in how the training pans out.

While, like every rule, there are exceptions, more often than not “Yes, And…” will lead to more positive learning experiences than “No, Because…” Even though the latter will likely be your instinct until you get some practice.

But it’s Sometimes Simpler Said than Done

Like a lot of things I’ve written about, this rule might be the exact opposite of what your gut tells you to do. If someone in a training says, “All the gay people I know are stylish,” your reflex will likely be “No” with a side of “Um. Really. No.”

But don’t trust your instincts, Luke. By now, you know them to not be true.

Instead, give “Yes, And…” a shot, and see where it can get you. Here are a few different ways you could “Yes, And…”

Them: “All the gay men I know are stylish.”

You: “Yes, and there are many gay men who are stylish. But there are also many gay people who aren’t, who don’t care about style at all.”

You: “Yes, and all the gay people I know are stylish, too. It could be because they happen to have that trait, or it could be a byproduct of a pressure they may feel to conform to that expectation of gay men. We call that internalized oppression. Anyone know how that works?”

You: “Yes, and you’re probably a judgmental person who only hangs out with stylish people have you ever thought MAYBE YOU’RE THE PROBL — sorry. I… I don’t know what came over me there. Not a good example, but you get the point. I think. Maybe? Just in case…

Becoming A “Yes, And…” Master

Let’s break this down. If you’re unconvinced, or unsure of your “Yes, And…” prowess, these next few bullets are just for you.

Don’t be a [knee] jerk. You are more than a reflex, and when facilitating a discussion you need to do more than react. You need to listen, hear, process, and respond in the way that will be the biggest benefit to the group. It’s easy to shoot someone down. It’s harder to take them where they are and walk together to somewhere new.

Take a big breath. Breathing is good, in general, but it’s also a great time to collect your thoughts. During that breath think about who the person is who said the thing you want to “NO,” why they may have said it, how they’re a part of a system just like everyone else, and — oh, there it is, right? You get where they’re coming from, maybe. You’ve got a “Yes, And…” and it only took one breath.

Think about where you want the scene to go. They’ve created the scene, but you have a say in how it develops. What do you want the story arc to be? What will the moral be at the end? Decide on these things, but also remember you’re not the only person writing this play. “What binds the fabric together when the raging, shifting winds of change keep ripping away?” You. You do.

Practice it at home folks.  This isn’t something you only have to get good at in workshops, it can be used in all areas of your life, purdy much whenever you disagree with someone who is saying something.  Practice in class or with your little brother, it gets easier to do it in those pressure situations when you’ve already got a couple good, yes-and-I-totally-disagree-with-you-but-I’m-going-to-leave-your-reality-intact-while-I-disagree moments.

Now say “Yes.” It’s just one syllable. You know how it works. It might be tough to get out. Say it. Sayyyyy it.

Now, quickly, say “And…” Don’t say the dots. That’d be weird. Instead of them, say something else. Add to the scene. Direct it where you think it should go. But, again, remember that you aren’t the only person responsible for that direction. This is like one of those super post-modern plays where everyone is the director, and everyone is an actor, and it’s also a social justice training. Mostly that last one.

Become comfortable with the unplanned. The “Yes, And…” rule is one of the most important in improv because it leads the scene down paths that no individual actor could have planned — hence, a scene that is totally and completely improvised. That’s what makes improv so great. The same goes for facilitation. If you listen to the group, allow them to have agency and bring themselves into the experience, you’ll end up somewhere you might not have ever been, but everyone will have had a say in getting there.

It’s easy to shut someone down if they misspeak. It’s easy to say no. It’s easy to tell someone why they were wrong for thinking something, and to curb “bad” thinking with quick corrections. But we’re not here for easy. We’re not here for “no.”

It’s not easy to create a space where everyone truly feels safe, able to be themselves and share their experiences, and know that they won’t be made to feel shame for what they’re bringing to the table. But isn’t that really the point of all of this?

Yes, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do.

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How to Read a Group Fri, 01 Aug 2014 18:56:20 +0000 When I first started performing stand-up comedy, someone gave me a piece of advice: good comedians aren’t the ones who know how to talk the best, but the ones who know how to listen. Admittedly, I didn’t understand the advice (even a little bit) until I started facilitating group discussions a year or so later. The best comedians and the best facilitators, in this case, have a lot in common: they know how to read and respond to a group. And to do that, you have to know how to listen.

I would get onstage and if I had 15 minutes to perform, I would spend roughly 14 minutes of that time talking. As I got more comfortable and funnier, I managed to get that talking time down to something like 13.75 minutes (because I was killing it with the extra .25 minutes of laughs, obviously). It was bad. I didn’t give the crowd any time to think, digest, let alone laugh.

I did the same thing with group discussions. I would go from one facilitation question to the next, asking follow-ups in rapid succession, get an answer from the group then move on. Or, if nobody answered, I would provide the answer myself. From the group standpoint, it was probably intense (sorry, y’all). I didn’t give them any time to think, digest, let alone to learn.

Fortunately, thanks so some good training I went through as an orientation leader, I was introduced to the importance of silence. We used an acronym WHALE, where the first two letters (if I’m remembering correctly) stood for “Wait” and “Hesitate.” That’s right: two parts of the five part solution were don’t do anything. For the first time ever, I took the risk that is being silent in front of a group. It was intimidating, felt wrong, and uncomfortable, but it allowed me to learn a skill that I now rely on for many aspects of my life: the ability to read a group.

I’m telling you all this for two reasons: (1) I want you to realize that this is something that didn’t come naturally to me, but took a lot of discomfort and time to get to where I’m at; and (2) because before you can learn to read a group, you need to know how to listen.

Learning How To Listen

This isn’t one of those “the difference between listening and hearing is…” points, though those are also important. In fact, it’s not even a smidge that philosophical or nuanced. It’s a wonderful coincidence that listen and silent are spelled with the same letters. What I’m getting at here is quite literal, simple, and one of those things that seems easy until you try it: listening instead of talking.

Develop a system that works for you. And by that I mean something that keeps you from filling the empty air with words. For me, the acronym WHALE helped a ton in the beginning. I would ask a question, then in my head recite “Wait… Hesitate…” and usually by then someone else would have broken the silence. Maybe counting works for you. Maybe you know all the words to “The Raven.” Whatever. Just something to fill the timespace in your head.

Trust the system. This is probably the only time you’ll ever see my type those words, but in this case it’s important. When you’re in a situation where you feel like it’s your responsibility to talk, a second of listening feels like an hour. It’s easy to throw it all away and just ramble. Hell, I still do it. Try not to. Trust the system, Neo.

Allow others to crumble first. There aren’t many laws when it comes to groups of human beings, but there is one that has never failed me: if you don’t talk, someone else will. Sometimes you have to wait a seemingly excruciatingly long time (like 2, maybe even 3 whole seconds), but someone else will crumble if you allow them to. The more you experience this happening, the more fun it becomes. Biting my tongue through awkward silences has actually become one of my favorite things, like a Fear Factor challenge (only in that case, it would probably involve biting some other thing’s tongue).

Just stop talking for a bit. Like I said before, there isn’t anything philosophical or fancy about this version of “learning how to listen.” Just use your ears and other people will be more likely to use their mouths.

I have almost never regretted being silent or giving participants space to think.  On the other hand there have been a boat load of times that I’ve walked away from an activity or workshop thinking, “mhmm, I did too much talking there,” and that keeps me motivated to keep quiet next time.  Share the air.

Reading a Group

Think of a group of people like a pop-up book being read to you by someone else. There is so much more to it than just the words on the page — there are movements, visuals, tone, and variety. And there are also the words on the page. Now imagine that pop-up book is also a choose-your-own-adventure style of pop-up book (which I don’t think exists, but now I really wish did exist).

The Words On the Page

While there is much more to a pop-up book than the words, the words are still important. Similarly important are the actual words you get from your group. This is square one: asking people how they feel about something, then having them tell you.

In comedy, it’s typical to ask a crowd to applaud if they’ve heard of something/done something/chewed on something. This is the words on the page. In social justice workshops, we can do the same thing “Show of hands if…” or “Nod if…” or (my personal fav) “Snaps if…” (because I was a bad snapper as a kid, but am now awesome at it).

There are a lot of ways to read the words on the page. Here are three:

1. Entry surveys. If possible, have the group fill out a little survey before your training to get a sense of their wants, experiences, dispositions, and identities. Demographic data of the group are words on the page. Questions they have for you before the training starts are words on the page.

2. Ask the group check-in questions throughout the workshop. Ask them what they think about things. Ask them how they feel. Ask them to reflect back on the first half of a workshop aloud. Process the processing. Ask the whatever, just, you know, shut up once you do (see section “Learning How to Listen”).

I love index card check ins.  You can pass out index cards and use them to check in with the group whenever you need to know what they’re thinking but you’re not sure that they’ll say it aloud.  I use them during vocabulary to allow people to write the words they don’t know, I use them after an intense activity to help people write down how they are feeling.  They are a way to do anonymous check ins to get the sense of the group.

3. Use responses to questions and activities as launching points for discussions. Nothing will tell you more about where someone is at on a subject than their responses to your discussion questions. A great prompt to see if someone understands something is “Recap what we just talked about in your own words.”

The Moving Parts: Examining Body Language

The way people are sitting, where they’re looking, and what they’re doing with their hands are all important parts of the story. Body language is nuanced and I’m not going to get into it here, but google “Body Language TED Talks” or books if you want to learn more. For our purposes, here are a few non-verbal cues I look out for:

1. Crossed arms and legs might mean someone is feeling threatened, or needs to put up their guard. In a training, this might be because they are feeling targeted, or just uncomfortable with the subject.

2. Physically turning away from someone, whether it’s another member of the group or you as the facilitator, might indicate someone is attempting to disengage from that person.

3. No eye contact, or staring off into the distance might mean that someone is bored, but it also could mean someone is processing. The best way to figure out which is to check in. Processing is good. Bored is less good.

These are all super important things to look out for and if you need to check in with the person about (1 on 1).  If they say nothings wrong it is also important to take them at their word because it is totally possible to read into something that isn’t there (but generally it tends to be.)

Tone and Quality of Voice: The Message Behind the Words

How someone says something can be as important as what they’re saying. One of my favorite examples of this is the famous “I never said she stole my money.” This sentence can be emphasized to mean seven different things, by changing which word is emphasized:

never said she stole my money. [someone else may have]

I never said she stole my money. [I didn’t say it and how dare you accuse me of doing so]

I never saidshe stole my money. [but she tots did]

I never said she stole my money. [but someone else did, and that person is a jerk]

I never said she stole my money. [I gave it to her, just, not, entirely willingly]

I never said she stole my money. [but she stole someone’s, and for that she’s a jerk]

I never said she stole my money. [she stole my heart. I gave her the money. I <3 jerks.]

Try to pay as much attention to the how as the what. And, as always, if you’re unsure of what someone is trying to convey with their tone, check-in.

Choose Your Own Adventure

If you’ve never read a choose your own adventure book, the premise is simple. At different points in the story, the author gives the reader the ability to decide where it’ll go next (“turn to page 113 if you get this reference; turn to page 89 if you want to see Sam stop using this analogy”). In reading a group during a workshop, it’s great if you can create opportunities where they have the ability to choose where the story goes next.

The simplest way to achieve this is by asking. You could do a vote (“Raise your hand if you want to spend 5 more minutes on this.”) or ask for submissions (“We should we talk about for these last 5 minutes).

Another way is to simply listen when the group is trying to tell you they’ve already chosen their own adventure. If folks keep asking questions about a certain subject, they’re choosing their own adventure. Cover that subject. If nobody seems engaged by whatever you’re talking about, ditto. If someone seems triggered, angry, or confused, that likely warrants switching to a different page.

Remember, facilitation isn’t about plotting out a course and etching it in stone, but about letting the winds and currents nudge you around on your way toward a common goal.

Cliff’s Notes of Group Reading

Unfortunately, there isn’t such a thing (blame Cliff!). I wrote a lot on this topic above because of just how difficult I know it is, and how much I didn’t want to just throw you out there with “the more you practice, the better you’ll be.” Because that’s almost cheating. But it’s also real life.

Alas, that’s where we’re at. Learn to listen. Spend a lot of time intentionally practicing this. It’s not a step you can skip. Then, once you’re listening, you’ll find that whatever group you’re with wants to be read — and they’ll do a ton of little, sometimes-invisible things to help you. You’ve just got to know where to look.


Compassionate Curiosity Fri, 01 Aug 2014 03:17:40 +0000 Compassionate curiosity is a style thing.  Like wearing your hat sideways or matching your shoes with the rest of your clothes (which this kid told me was fresh).  Ok perhaps its not exactly like those styles of style things but it is a way you approach a situation, kind of frame of reference that informs your interaction.

What you ask is compassionate curiosity!

Its a combo of compassion and curiosity.

Compassion is about identifying with what a person is saying (or going through) on a level that says not just “I get you” but “I’ve totally been there/had that thought/know what you’re thinking.”


Curiosity is about probing for more information without judgement about maintaining an interest without deciding before you find out more.   Little kiddos are super good at this.  When they start picking at the dirt or attempting to eat that flower they aren’t like, “I’m going to do this because I think its a good idea” or a bad one for that matter, they are just curious and they wanna find out more.

= Compassionate Curiosity the ability to dig for more information without judgement while simultaneously identifying with how that person is feeling/thinking.  Sounds complicated, but stick with me here.

If someone in a workshop were to say, “I don’t see the difference between gender and sex.”  Cool.  That makes sense to me a lot of people don’t understand the difference between gender and sex right? (Seriously almost everyone doesn’t which is totally normal). I used to be one of those people like not super long ago.  Those words are used so interchangably it is a wonder they haven’t just become one.  Like gex or sender. Anyways.

Let’s say a participant just said that, here is how I would approach that with a compassionately curious style.  “That totally makes sense, I totally have struggled with that too. tell me more about how that works for you/how you see them as similar/what sparked that thought in you.”

I haven’t jumped to conclusions about why they think that.  I haven’t come up with a story about how they are never going to get it. I am simply looking for more information, digging in to find more information.  I am also saying, “Hey there, you are not alone in this feeling,” and that’s mad important.  That person might have felt self conscious about saying that thing (or maybe they didn’t.) Regardless, they know you’re not going to rag on them for saying it, because hey you’ve felt that way too.  That’s what compassion does, ensures they don’t feel threatened or alone.

Asking more questions without judgement allows the conversation to go farther than it would if you simply replied with a statement.  This can be kinda counter intuitive to ask more questions, particularly if they led with a question, but the beauty of facilitation, its not a normal conversation, its a facilitated one.

People are often trepidatious about entering into social justice conversations, cuz a lot of times they may have had a previously negative experience.  I find that experience is often from a feeling of being judged.  People are going to think I’m not the brightest crayon in the box if I say this thing that I’m thinking or wondering.  The best way to combat that is to be curious not judgemental about what they are saying.  Treat them like the little kid treats the flower they wanna eat.  Wait no. Don’t do that.  But do be curious.

This is some advanced level stuff

You’re being asked to consider how you do, not just what you do with this one.  Being compassionate and curious can be things we are really out of practice doing, and when you’re rusty you often feel… rusty.  Compassion for someone who is in a place or struggling with a thing that you no longer struggle with can be challenging, and also totally connecting.  Being curious about something you could totally go judgemental on can take some time, and will typically reveal new things you would have never previously thought of.

Best case scenario, if this technique, this style permeates the workshop, you’re more likely to have waaay more of those uber productive conversations throughout.  When you dig deeper, give people space to make mistakes, the conversations get better, and thus the workshop is better.  And that’s what being an all-star facilitator is all about, making those little changes that can make all the difference.

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Letters to Self: The Importance of Reflective Feedback Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:30:30 +0000 One day before a Safe Zone workshop during my undergrad days I sat in my currently empty classroom (feeling awkwardly dressed up to be sitting alone in a classroom) racking my brain thinking, “What the helllllll did I tell myself I wouldn’t do this time and what actually went well in the last workshop?”

During those years (and… pretty much still every time now) I worry right before a workshop starts that I am no good at this, people are going to hate it and not learn anything, how did I get myself into this mess.  Luckily after a few dozen or so of those experiences I figured out some tools that help me put those thoughts down and allow me to remember the ones that are more important.

Learnin’ From My Mistakes

After that Safe Zone I pulled out one of the feedback forms that I handed to my participants and began to grade myself.  “How’d I do today, self?”  What went right? What would I not do again?  What did someone say that surprised me?  What did I learn from these experiences?

It wasn’t until years later (actual years) that I realized a few things about that experience:

  1. If I’d have given myself feedback all along I’d be 100% better facilitator both then and now.  Participant feedback is important, sometimes it is really hard to tell what resonated for some and not others without that direct ask, but self-feedback is something we often do not talk about (or do).
  2. I gotta write it down.  I might have walked out of that workshop previous with a boat load of feedback or thoughts on how I’d do things differently but nothing sticks (for me anyway) without that writing it down piece.
  3. If I did those two things I would have repeated fewer mistakes.

Now… I will be the first to assure you that sitting in an empty classroom, presentation hall, pavillion (bucket list: do a workshop in a pavillion!) writing a letter to yourself about how you did that day feels super goofy.  But it is so important. You know in interview shows when they talk to famous people and ask, “What would you tell your younger self?” and the famous person always answers back something super simple (and typically a word you don’t associate with them at all) like, “Patience.”  This is the thing that I would tell my younger self (and that I am now sharing with you) – don’t underestimate the importance (or power) of feedback.

Moving Forward With Self-Feedback

To cut down on that goofy feeling you have doing all this I wanted to make the steps that I follow acquiring feedback real clear so mostly because following these is the way I trick myself into believing I have to do it.

Step 1: Get the feedback.

Couple of options here.  Best case scenario: you’ve thought about the type of feedback that you want before the workshop, and you’ve drafted a specific feedback form for yourself for that workshop. If you’ve not done any of that but you still realize feedback is important, write down a couple of quick questions during an activity participants are doing by themselves and answer those questions later.  It helps me to have this written down (like this) because again I trick myself into thinking its a requirement of some sort.

Step 2: Seriously did you give yourself feedback?

It sounds simple now, but I assure you after a workshop goes awry or you’re totally exhausted from being challenged by participants for 2 hours the least likely thing you’ll want to do is give yourself feedback on what you could have done better.  But it will make you stronger, your future self with thank your past self at your next workshop, I promise.

Step 3: Why don’t ya do something?

Read the feedback within 24-72 hours so the workshop is still fresh in your mind.  Ideally, do this when you really have time to absorb (take notes perhaps).

Step 3.5: Read it again, but way longer than 72 hours later. I’ll save feedback notes that I wrote myself for a year, sometimes longer. When I reflect back on them after that long a time, I get a completely different (and sometimes really helpful) nudge. Plus, they’re fun to read.

Step 4: Be amongst the self-disciplined elite.

Write yourself a new action plan, curriculum, gameplan for next time.  If you take that feedback you have from yourself and from others and actually change your curriculum or goals for next time before the next workshop when everything is still fresh.  You will separate yourself from the herd and be amongst the will-powerfully strong self-disciplined elite.  I can tell you that I do not do this every time… or even most, but it is something I always strive for (and that my future self always thanks me for.)

Typically there isn’t a sure-thing in life.  If you want one sure-fire, bonafide way to make yourself better: get feedback, give feedback, receive feedback, act on the feedback.  And you’ll be better. Guaranteed.

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Speaking for a Group Identity: A How-Not-To Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:16:09 +0000 It’s inevitable. You’ll be sitting there at the head of the group, everyone’s eyes intensely looking your way. In a thick cloud of silence, you’ll hear the second hand on the clock announce itself proudly. Nobody’s talking. A second second. Still no talking. An eternity of three seconds have passed in silence. You can’t help but wonder who decided to buy such a loud clock in 2014.

No! Focus. Someone just asked, “Why do [blank group of people] [verb] [some overgeneralized descriptor]?”

You’ve been gifted that gem in a variety of cuts and hues. “Why do gay men have so much promiscuous sex?” “Why do trans people get depressed?” “Why do all lesbians dress like men?”

Welp. There’s no way out of this one. The group is awaiting an answer you can’t possibly have. They’re aching for it. We’re all taught to stereotype, and in situations like this we secretly crave justification for it. “I knew it!” someone is waiting to say. They’re thinking it so loudly you can hear it. You can’t help but wonder when you developed the ability to read minds.

No! Focus. You need to address this question. So what do you do?

You Can[not] Speak on Behalf of an Entire Group of People

Whenever people ask that “Why do [blank] people [do blank]?” question, I want to yell, “That’s just not true!” and debunk the stereotype once and for all, but in many cases it is true, for at least some people. Acknowledging that it is sometimes true, and realizing I can’t speak for any group (even in speaking against a stereotype), is a forever struggle that has always had the gut-check response for me as being counterintuitive. But sometimes it’s important to question your gut.

Or sometimes I want to ask the asker a series of similar questions about their identity in return. Go all Socratic on a fool. But that’s inappropriate for a number of reasons. Primarily (at least for the sake of this article) because I’m asking them to speak on behalf of a group to highlight how bad it is to speak on behalf of a group.

For the sake of honesty, you technically can speak on behalf of an entire group of people. A lot of people do it, a lot of the time…

But you cannot accurately speak for a group identity. It’s impossible. Nobody can do it — whether they are a member of that group or not. Gay men don’t have an annual meeting where they come to Gay Man decisions, then provide that information in a Gay Man Report for you to share with your group in a training. Sorry, not a thing.

But there is one exception — one way you can accurately speak on behalf of a group identity: you can simply state, on behalf of the group, that overgeneralizing any group identity, or amounting any group of people to a singular trait, disposition, or behavior, is a problematic.

Things You Can Do In Addition to Non-Answering

It’s tough to give someone a non-answer, even if a question is un-answerable (like the “Why do [blank group of people] [verb] [some overgeneralized descriptor]?” question). Sometimes a group isn’t yet okay with that level of cognitive complexity and needs a bit more concreteto settle into. Here are some different ways to avoid speaking on behalf of a group, but also to not leave a question asker feeling miffed.

“Validate what they are saying.  This can be a tough one but often really helps diffuse the person feeling awkward about what they are asking.  “I totally get why you might ask why do all lesbians dress like men, because those are likely the people you identify as gay women right?  Like if a woman is dressed in a masculine way then we assume that they are gay.”  That gets the ball rolling and from there the options below become all the better!

Tell a personal anecdote. If you identify with the identity in question, share a story from your lived experience in that identity. Explain how you do or don’t relate to or experience whatever the person was asking. But end it, and make this incredibly clear, by reminding the group that is just your individual experience. One of many.

Relate something someone who identifies that way has shared with you. If you’re speaking about an identity you don’t embody, but someone who does has shared something helpful with you, recall it. Someone once told me that a good ally is like an expensive sound system, they amplify the marginalized voices without distorting them. That second part is incredibly important. But more important is ending whatever you say by making it incredibly clear that you’re translating another individual’s individual experience. As you understood it. One of many.

Refer to the research. I’ll be the first person to say that the majority of research we have about humans should be questioned, but it’s still a helpful starting point. If you have data, share it. Statistics are helpful in getting folks to understand the demographics of a group at large. But end it by emphasizing that whatever data you’re discussing doesn’t necessarily describe every individual who identifies with that group.

Start a mini-discussion about the question with the group. Ask if there are any folks in the group who are comfortable sharing personal anecdotes about their experience with that identity, or pose the question, “What do you think led to [the question asker] wondering that?” Redirect folks if they go on a tangent, and be sure to throw in the disclaimer that a person is only speaking on behalf of themselves, not the group if they don’t say so themselves.

Regardless of what you do, do your best to make it emphatically [annoyingly] clear that whatever you talk about, share, say, read, report, regurgitate… is not a license for anyone in that group to think they know or get any individual of any group identity. Individuals are composed of many identities, and have a number of group memberships that affect their individuality in countless and unknowable ways.

The more you learn about identity, the more you’ll realize you’ll be comfortable understanding how little you know about someone who happens to identify in that way. That’s the real answer to this question. The way you get the group there is up to you.


Finding Your Style: You Gotta Werk at Your Work Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:06:47 +0000 When I first started facilitating social justice workshops, I did it the way I was supposed to — or at least, the way I thought I was supposed to. I facilitated activities in the ways that the facilitators who facilitated them for me facilitated them (facilitate!).

It felt unnatural, a bit like I was acting, forced, and uncomfortable. And of course it did: I was putting as much effort into emulating another person’s behavior as I was into leading an activity. That’s energy misspent.

The goal of the workshop wasn’t to convince them I could act like someone else, that I could talk and explain things like a parrot repeating how they were explained to me. The goals were to teach someone a new concept, open their eyes to an injustice, cultivate empathy, or, ideally, activate something inside of them that inspires them to act in socially conscious ways.

Achieving the goals of a social justice training is climbing a mountain. Bringing anything with you that you don’t need will only weigh you down. This includes the baggage of “shoulds” and “supposed tos” and “trying to be anything but the snowflake that you are.”

The Best Facilitator You Can Be Is the Youest Facilitator You Can Be

You bring something to the conversation that literally no other person in the world brings: the unique set of experiences, dispositions, ideas, knowledge, attitudes, and insight that you’ve collected in your life. Own that, embrace it, it is going to help immensely.

To try to act like anyone else, or to be anything but your authentic self when facilitating, will not only encumber you, it’d be a shame to keep all that truly unique you a secret from the group — heck, it’s almost rude. They’re in a lucky position that they may never be in again. Not only do they get to learn about this topic (maybe it’s gender, maybe it’s sexuality, maybe social justice at large), but they get to learn about it from you (your approach to understanding gender, your perspective on why sexuality is important).

Your style may not be everyone’s favorite. Some participants may prefer a livelier/quieter/funnier/seriouser/dynamicer/staticer/etceteraer facilitator. Some will prefer you. It’s not something you should worry about, but instead free up some mind space to focus on being the best facilitator you can be. You… can be.

Getting Rid of Some Baggage

The first step to getting comfortable being the youest you you can be, and really putting your spin on a workshop or training, is to shed everything weighing you down. Let’s unpack some important baggage that might keep you from reaching the top of your mountain:

Know there is no right way. There are no “shoulds.” There are “no supposed tos.” As you start to understand core social justice concepts, things like identity, sexuality, and gender, you inherently start to realize there is a lot more grey than there is black or white. Ditto for the ways to approach these topics. There is no one correct way to facilitate.

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

You’re going to screw up. And that’s okay. One of the reasons I found myself trying to emulate the facilitators who taught me things was to avoid screwing up. I saw them do it, it worked, so I should do it like that. If you’re learning what your natural facilitation style is, it means taking the risk that a training or two (or ten) might not go as well as you’d like. Take notes give yourself some feedback (and some space to grow), think about what worked for you and what didn’t, make tweaks, and you’ll get more comfortable every time.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

Do as I say, not as I do. When you go through an activity as a participant, be a sponge for the information, the core concepts, and the learning objectives. But do your best to keep in mind that there are a thousand different paths to any objective, and the way that worked for that facilitator (with their skills, preferences, experience, and personality) may not work for you (with your… all that stuff).

“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.” – Swami Vivekananda

“Sam and I don’t teach Safe Zone workshops the same way even though we agree on almost everything. We’re different folks and we’re gonna have different jokes, approaches, styles and possibly even entirely different goals for a workshop. And that’s OK. We’re different people! We approach the work from different identities, different spaces, and use really different techniques sometimes to get to where we are headed. But that’s what makes safe zones so fun, you go to more than one and its never the same experience, so don’t try to make it the same!”

Putting Yourself Into Your Facilitation

You know that you’ll better serve your group being you than trying to be someone else, you understand how to approach a few of the hurdles that might stand in the way, (and you have some fun quotes to post on Facebook) but how do you put your spin on what you’re teaching? You know, the title of this entire article. Maybe we should talk about that?

You’re getting to be pretty sassy. Good thing I appreciate sass. Go you. Oh, and here’s how:

1. Identify what you’re good at, and what you’re not so good at.

Ask your friends, cofacilitate with people, or just think about how you act at a dinner party or around your friends. Who are you when you’re comfortable, and what skills do you have that you can draw from. Are you a story teller? Use that. Are you the strong, but silent type? Be that. Are you funny? Joke. Are you empathic? Empathize.

2. Experiment with the group (not like that).

Take the things you’re good at and try incorporating them into the activities you’re facilitating. Ideally, go with one or two new things at time, so you’ll know that if things go well/not-so-well, you can isolate what might have been responsible. Take one activity and facilitate it it in different ways, drawing on different aspects of your personality/skills each time.

3. Take risks.

The first time I used humor in a social justice training I was sure it would backfire. I thought it was somehow not allowed, wouldn’t work, and I would regret it. I can’t think of a time I was more wrong about anything. Humor is me. And by taking the risk of putting myself out there, I was rewarded by connecting with the group on a genuine level.

4. Reflect and tweak.

Get feedback from people. Give yourself feedback after each training. Think about when you felt most comfortable, when you were reaching, when you were just plain out of your element. While humor is my go-to, it’s not appropriate or effective for everything. Through reflecting and feedback, I’ve learned when it does and doesn’t work. Do the same, and tweak future activities to better emphasize your strengths.

5. Ask for help.

Cofacilitation is a fantastic way to allow you to be a youey you, while the group still gets a well-rounded experience. Find someone who complements your style, skills, knowledge, and experiences. If there’s an activity you don’t think your well-suited for, but is important for whatever goals you have for that workshop, find someone to help you. Maybe you’re great at mini-lectures, but not so great at answering on-the-spot, loaded questions. Find someone who is triggered by different things than you, who can step in if you’re feeling out of your element.

Be you.

It’s scary, it might feel wrong, seem like the harder option, a twisty road without a map, but that all couldn’t be further from the truth. If you care about whatever subject you’re facilitating, and genuinely want to best serve the group, there’s nothing you can do better than being genuinely you.

It’s your training. Your activity. Your workshop. And you’re the one facilitating it. Werk it.

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Facilitation is the Name of the Game Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:04:14 +0000 There are a lot of nouns to choose from to describe your position in the front of the room, head of the table, organizer of the google hangout etc.  I think that Safe Zone workshops and social justice workshops in general are best served not by teachers or lecturers, but by facilitators.

A facilitator is a bit like a captain of a ship.  When I facilitate I see my role as attempting to corral a lot of moving parts to keep moving forward.  There isn’t necessarily one right path, there are a lot of different ways to get to where we are headed and I, like the participants, am along for the ride. I’m not in complete control but I’m willing to take the blame if things go badly and I know that if things go well that I am only part of what made that magic happen. This fits the goals of Safe Zone workshops quite nicely and is really a wonderful metaphor for how I strive to be in all my social justice work.

A teacher indicates an exchange of ideas from one person TO the other.  This exchange also has an element of power in it. Teacher knows best and students are only there to receive the information.  While there are undoubtedly moments in Safe Zone workshops and social justice work where you slip into teacher mode, where you give a little speech or talk for a while on a single subject without an exchange between you and the participants, these moments are always limiting to both parties.  The participants don’t feel as involved or as engaged, and you aren’t able to gauge where they are and how they are receiving or processing the information.  Limiting these moments of teaching and working towards moments of facilitation will allow for a more constant exchange of ideas.

A lecturer says all their stuff before they hear yours.  This is handy when you need to get all the information out there prior to having a dialogue back and forth.  I do mini-lectures (5 minutes or less) in my workshops about gender identity vs. sex, about trans* individuals, about biphobia, and often these are new concepts so I want to get everything out there on the table before we start dissecting it.  However, if you go into full on lecturer mode for a 2 hour workshop, I promise you, you’re going to lose some folks to the zzZZZzzz’s.

Safe Zones and social justice workshops really behoove participant interaction because people being actively engaged in their own learning and unlearning process makes it a whole lot more fun.  They can also make up their own mind and explore those new options with others when they’re given a chance to articulate and figure those options out.

A Few Ways to Ensure You’re Staying in Facilitator Mode

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and let the winds blow your ship off course. Here are a few techniques you can use throughout a workshop to avoid accidentally teaching or lecturing too much:

Guide but be willing to go with the flow.  Some people set an agenda for their workshops, I was introduced to the idea of setting a flow (by becky martinez) and ever since I’ve really embraced that idea.  With thinking of it as a flow I think of my list of activities etc as almost a rhythm that the workshop could follow but that if we veer off and go somewhere else that’s ok too and I build that expectation in right up front.

Ask questions (with curiosity).  As a facilitator is it important to challenge (and support) people’s learning.  When someone shares a thought, ask them to go deeper, explain where that idea came from or what they’re getting out of it now that they’ve shared it with the group.  Be curious about what people are saying, get those conversations going.

Check in with the group.  It is super important to read your group, to be able to respond appropriately to the energy, knowledge, and emotions in the room.  Checking in, asking where people are at on this concept, does anyone need more time, does anyone not get that definition is important.  (And asking questions in the negative like does anyone not get that def allows you really hear the people who don’t.)

State your intentions when you shift gears.If you’re going to do a mini-lecture about a topic for a few minutes, tell the group. “I’m going to take a couple minutes to run you through the difference between gender identity, expression, and sex. After, we’ll have a discussion where I’ll ask you to examine your own gender.” After the mini-lecture, let the group know you’re reverting back to facilitation mode, “That’s it for the lecture. Now let’s discuss. What’re your thoughts?”

Don’t just leave time for processing. GIVE time for processing.  As you become more and more confident as a facilitator and feel comfortable leading discussions and going back and forth in that dialogue give more and more time for processing the activities.  The learning is in the reflection and it is important to not leave processing as an after thought but to prioritize it from the start.  (I myself aim to give processing 50% of the time or more in the workshop.

Hopefully these tips will keep you safely sailing the facilitation seas in your next workshop. Remember, there is nothing inherently wrong about lecturing or teaching, and both have their place in a safe zone workshop, but facilitation puts more control in the hands of your crew to get as much out of your time together as possible.

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You Don’t Have to Know it All: Getting Started and Diving In Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:57:43 +0000 There is this thing about standing in the front of the room.  It can feel terrifying, like you don’t know what you’re doing, and why did you volunteer to do this in the first place when you don’t know any of this stuff!  People are looking at you as the expert, the big cheese, the pro-at-all-things-LGBTQ.

The thing that we don’t say or admit enough is that we’re not the expert.  I’m not now.  I know I sure as shiitake mushrooms wasn’t when I started facilitating Safe Zone workshops my 2nd year at college.  Not by a long shot. Not by a 5K.

What I think is super neat about social justice is that I believe I become more credible as a facilitator by owning what I don’t know.  This isn’t universal, some people respect me less or find me less credible for saying I don’t know something, but I firmly believe it makes me far more effective as a facilitator.  Why?

When You Say You Don’t Know Things…

A few wonderful things happen:

You don’t have to fake that you do know something!  That is a lot of weight off your shoulders, back, chest — your whole self.  You don’t have to spend energy acting or trying to give an answer that you’re not really sure about.

You give others permission to be wrong.  I don’t know a better way to inspire other people to say, “I don’t know,” than to say it myself.  Imperfect role modeling is something you shouldn’t underestimate.

There’s this great koan about knowledge that always comes to mind here: half of a safe zone workshop is helping people learn, but the other half is helping them feel safe unlearning.

You role model this social justice stuff as a process.  Learning about gender, sexuality, and social justice stuff is a journey.  I often picture it like a track where just you feel like you’re coming back to the end, you’re back at the beginning, having to re-learn, re-engage, re-start down a new leg of the track or a new part of your journey.  It is important for participants to see that the journey isn’t over for your either and we still all have a lot to learn!

The Things You Do Need To Know

There are things that I believe that are important to consider and prepare for before facilitating a workshop (which is why we started made this handy dandy list LINK. Additionally, I would add that there are some things that would be best to know before standing up in the front of the room:

Know how it feels to be a participant. It is incredibly important to your ability to connect with participants to have been a participant.  Rather than distancing yourself from that experience, try to draw on your participant experience throughout the workshop.  Identify with what they are saying, mistakes they are possibly making, or trouble they are having grasping the concept (we’ve all been there!).  You cannot fake the knowledge of what is it is like to be on the other side of the table, embrace that inner beginner.

Know your vocab. Vocabulary and terminology can often be the place that most people get stuck.  Some seek out Safe Zones or other sj workshops to ensure they got their terminology down.  I highly recommend you feel like you’ve got a good handle on both the formal definitions of the words as well as the different contexts in which they are used.

Know your answers to your own questions. Sure, it sounds simple, but speaking from experience I know it can sometimes be tempting to ask questions that you’re really not sure how to answer.  Tryyy not to do that for the simple fact that if you are met with crickets, it will look mighty awkward if you are not to be able to answer the question either.

Know your triggers. It’s tough to know if something will trigger you until it happens, so this list will develop over time, but if you know what is likely to get your blood boiling before it happens, you’ll be more likely to keep your cool when/if it does.

Know what you’re going to mini-lecture on. Some people include mini lectures in their workshops (for example, in our curriculum we consider the genderbread person to be a mini lecture).  It is totally okay, as long as you know beforehand what topics you’re going to lecture about, and are able to clearly communicate the concept in that way.  Personally, it took me a full year of facilitation and trainings before I was comfortable and confident doing a mini lecture on trans* issues (which at that time lacked the * – check this out if you wanna know more).  Feel good about what you’re going to present before you take on  expert role moments like mini lectures.

Safe Zone workshops, like many — okay like almost all — other things in life take practice.  You’re going to be better five workshops from now than you are right now. And that’s a good thing! Consider these “gotta know” pieces, get to prepping, and then get on out there. We know you can do it, and we are here to help when you need us!

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Marked vs. Unmarked Identities with Deborah Tannen Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:51:18 +0000 There are a select few essays I would ever say were responsible for individually shifting the way I think about something. Contrary to what Buzzfeed claims, it takes more than a list of animated .gifs to blow my mind. But Deborah Tannen’s ‘93 essay originally titled “Marked Women, Unmarked Men” is one of those essays.

It changed the way that I think about identity in general, as well as the way I think about the composition of a group in a training setting. I’ll talk through a few of those highlights below, but first I want you to read the piece.


Some Questions You Can Reflect On

What I took away from this piece and what you can take away from it are likely not one-in-the-same. Before you read why I like this piece so much, here are some questions you can ask yourself as you read/reread the piece that might lead to you having some big mental shift that in a super cool direction that mine didn’t shift. Just don’t rub it in my face.

  1. Have I ever been in a situation like this, making observations like the ones Tannen made? What did it feel like? Was it comfortable? Uncomfortable? Eye-opening? Redundant?
  2. In which situations are my identities marked? When are they not? How does this make me feel? Is this something I can or do avoid?
  3. When do I find myself marking other people’s identities? How does it affect how I interact with them? The questions I ask them? The ways I approach conversation? The assumptions I make?
  4. Why is the idea of marked vs. unmarked identities important to social justice training? In which ways can this inform how I interact with groups? How I lead trainings? The ways I facilitate conversations amongst group members? How can this change the ways I approach conversations about identity?

A Few of My Big Takeaways

Why do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. The first time I read this essay was the first time I ever thought about identities as being sometimes-invisible, sometimes-salient. Hidden identities affect the ways we interact and understand people as much as the prominent ones, and when an identity is hidden or prominent changes based on who else is around and what’s going on. It forced me to reflect on the many times my [usually dominant] identities go unmarked, and the [usually friction-y] times I’ve experienced being the marked identity.
  2. It made me realize that the only time my identities are marked are when that identity is in the minority. I’m not conscious of being a man unless I’m surrounded by women; not white unless I’m surrounded by people of color; not straight unless I’m surrounded by people who are queer; not poor unless I’m surrounded by middle-to-upper-class people. Most of the time, as a person of many privileged identities, I’m fortunate enough to just be Sam.
  3. It made me realize that I generally notice aspects of other peoples’ identities when they are in the minority. If everyone in my group is a man but one person, that person has a gender. And it matters. Ditto if everyone is White but one person. That person has a race. Ditto a class. Ditto a religion. I realized how good I am at playing the Sesame Street “Which one of these is not like the other” game, and how quickly that factored into how I saw the “other” in the group.
  4. I now understand the importance of marking all identities, if we are going to have a conversation about social justice. Dominant group identities and target group identities are both identities. White is a race. Man is a gender. Straight is a sexuality. It’s a dangerous [and super normal] way of thinking to treat dominant identities as the default, and others as variations of that default. And in social justice trainings, it’s a perfect time to start the conversation of naming (marking, making salient) all identities that affect a person’s lived experience.
Navigating Triggers with Kathy Obear Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:10:53 +0000 “Facilitating dialogues about issues of diversity, inclusion and equity can be challenging and stressful work. It involves exploring areas that are not typically addressed in traditional learning environments. Whether conscious of it or not, facilitators and participants bring most, if not all, of who they are to the learning environment, including their fears, biases, stereotypes, memories of past traumas and current life experiences.”

As a result many facilitators report being “hooked” by the comments and actions of participants and feel “triggered” emotions, including anger, fear, embarrassment, pain and sadness. Many experts in the field use the term “trigger” to describe the “instantaneous response to stimuli without accompanying conscious thought.” ~ Dr. Kathy Obear


Woohooo.  Big, bold powerful words from none other than Dr. Kathy Obear, a wonderful and inspiring individual who does this social justice thing so. dang. well.  One of her cornerstone pieces is on triggers and both Sam and I agree this is something every social justice educator should read.

If you haven’t experienced triggers in a social justice setting here is another way to think about them.  You know how your siblings, family, close friends know a way that almost instantly gets under your skin.  Where its like they pushed a button and though it mighta been small the feeling it creates is HUGE.  That’s a trigger.

I’m going to stop talking about this now, because this piece speaks for itself. Here’s a link, and down below are some things to keep in mind. Go read it!

Questions to consider when reading/reflecting on the piece

  • Does this resonate with me?  Can I think of examples from my own facilitation experience when this has happened?
  • Have I ever been triggered as a participant by a facilitator?  How did that go?
  • What are the things that come to mind as triggers that I can name right now? How would I deal with those?
  • Do I need to be aware of not only what was said that triggered me but who was saying it?  Do different people/identities trigger me differently.

My take-aways

This is one of those pieces of writing that I could barely get through the first time because it inspired so many different thoughts in me I was bouncing all around the place thinking, “Woah, this is the real deal, Kathy is putting it all out there, this is how it is!”  During and after that feeling this is what I was thinking:

  • I really need to get my know triggers better.  I am a generally very calm person, well I don’t’ get angry easily (I do get very excited) and I always assumed that I would be just naturally good at remaining calm. However, the more I think about what triggers me, or those moments where I speak or even simply aggressively roll my eyes on impulse those are when I’m feeling triggered
  • The story I tell myself really is a story.  This is still a really challenging for me to remember.  That person crossing their arms and looking at the floor isn’t necessarily mad or checked out.  Maybe they are sick or maybe that is how they listen best without other distractions.  I am telling myself a story about why they are doing it, it is only my interpretation.
  • Different people trigger me differently.  If a man or someone I perceive to be a male says something that take as sexist it is going to trigger me differently than if someone I identify to be a woman says the same thing.  Someone’s identity may be part of my trigger.  And in that same way my identity may be a trigger for someone.  This is something I need to dig into and be more conscious of.

Have a read! I hope you enjoy.

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Play with us! Expiring soon! Wed, 05 Feb 2014 21:19:30 +0000 Oh the weather outside (depending on your neck of the woods) is… outright crazy.  SO what better time to take a little nugget of your day to read our blog.  I would like to take a moment of your day to talk about one of the scariest things about diversity education and then another moment to talk about what you can do to push that monster back under the bed.

Here it is, the fact that keeps me up at night about diversity education.  *Deep breath*

With so much of diversity education, so many of our workshops we only get one shot to make a difference.

Just one.  A single workshop, hour, or moment to make an impact, teach or converse about something awesome, and have that group you’re working or that person you’re chatting with walking away with more questions to be answered and motivation to go find those answers.

That can feel kind of terrifying.  BUT here is the great thing, we can prepare ourselves for those moments by learning about how to teach, facilitate and reflect on these things.

But we can’t do it alone.

Or at least we don’t want to…


And this is why I ask for your help.  Sam and I are looking to create an All Star Facilitation Track i.e. a self-guided tour through the materials and articles we think will help you become a great social justice facilitator or have you rockin’ your Safe Zone workshops like a dream.

Back to that idea of only getting one shot.  This is your one shot.  To jump on the teaching wagon and help us out with this All Star Track.  We are looking for you (yes, you) to help us write these wonderful articles, activities, and thoughts and we want you to do it right now (or at least put us on your to do list).

There is a deadline, because let’s face it… if it doesn’t have a deadline its likely never going to happen.

FEB 14th.  We are looking to have these ideas, articles, activities, and wonderful tid-bits of knowledge rolling through our inboxes by then.

Sam and I got into this work and started this project and created this site to help others (and ourselves) acquire the knowledge, tools, and skills needed to make the best use of all the educational opportunities we encounter in the future. And we want you to help us do it.  To help craft those materials that will make the difference when it matters most.

So take a look on the All-Star Facilitator track page – see what our ideas for articles (that you can write!) are at this moment and get inspired and get to writing, recording, or tweeting to your bestie that they’d be perfect at this!  We know you can!

And if you ever need a pep talk or a metaphoric shoulder massage.

Just let me know.

I’m queer to help you.


Responding to Buzzfeed: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Transgender People” Tue, 23 Jul 2013 20:40:57 +0000 A couple days ago Buzzfeed (a HUGELY popular, mainstream publication) ran a “Trans 101” article Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Transgender People But Were Afraid To Ask. We were stoked! (and, admittedly, a bit nervous)

After reading through it, we realized our nervousness was not justified, because — despite what we’ve been trained to expect from mainstream publications — the article was really well done! Great work, Sarah!  Hooray!

However, even the greatest things can be improved (like adding wayfarers to the Mona Lisa), and this article is no exception. While we really appreciated reading this (and Sam appreciated the link to his site — fun surprise), there are a few edits we would like to suggest.

(Oh, and if you’re curious about further trans* or LGBTQ terminology, check our our Vocab Extravaganza activity, and the massive list of terms it includes)

Trans Man / Trans Woman


While many people might identify as “Transman” or “Transwoman” as a way of recognizing their gender assigned at birth, a lot of trans* people will simply identify as “man” or “woman.”



One of the reasons this term is considered incorrect is because it implies that something *happened* to the person to make them transgender. People don’t “switch genders” due to some traumatic thing, just like they don’t switch sexual orientations — as Queen Gaga would say, we’re all born this way.

Oh, and for the myriad people who we’ve seen snap “BUT WHY IS IT OKAY TO SAY ‘CISGENDERED’ THEN REVERSE DISCRIMINATION BLURGH” … “cisgendered” is also incorrect. “Cisgender” will do just nicely. Also, please stop yelling.



The article totally nails the definition with one aside: someone who identifies as MTF/FTM does not have to be currently transitioning. That is, some people who have completed their transition will still identify as MTF/FTM (also MtF/M2F or FtM/F2M).



Not only is not everyone who does drag trans*, but MOST people (in our extensive anecdotal experiences at drag shows… Meg’s been to close to two dozen but who’s counting) who do drag aren’t trans*. Drag is a performance thing, not an identity thing.

Preferred Pronouns


We’ve most commonly seen this as “Preferred Gender Pronouns” or “PGPs.” For example, one time Sam was performing at a high school and one of the little gems who went to school there asked him, “Sam, what are your PGPs?” Then Sam got so excited/surprised he may have peed a little bit.

Birth Name


Love this one. For serious. Just wanted to say that. Nailed it, Sarah. Ick.



Some other “nopes” we would like to see included include TrannyHermaphrodite, Ladyboy, He/She, and Pretendbian. Ick.

Do you have any suggestions or critiques?

Leave a comment below, or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter if you do. We’d love to add them to the article, and with any luck we can encourage Buzzfeed to make these small (but important) improvements.

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We are LIVE! Welcome to the Safe Zone Project! Thu, 18 Jul 2013 15:19:58 +0000 Hey there!  Meg & Sam here! Welcome to our website! YAY! We’re so glad you could make it! Let’s give you a quick introduction to the site, but rest assured that if you start exploring you’ll find it more than speaks for itself. (you can just start at the home page and explore from there!)

What’s this all about?

Meg and Sam created the Safe Zone Project to help people who want to educate others on LGBTQ, gender, and sexuality issues do that with ease.  We’ve got an awesome curriculum for a two-hour workshop ready to rock (which is why its creatively named our ready-to-rock curriculum — download it here), a whole slew of activities to look through (and more forever being added), as well as some tips, tricks, and handy little tid-bits from us! We’re all about making college campuses (and people in other educational spaces…or people in general) more informed, educated, and excited about sexuality and gender.  It’s is what we both do best!

What to see & where to look!

So you can download our curriculum right here right now. You can also check out a whole host of different activities and sort through um like you’re looking for shoes on Zappos… except instead of shoes is diversity educational tools and instead of Zappos ITS US. Use the “Activity Finder” hidden in the sidebar above (just hover over it to make it less hidden) to get started there.


This is Meg & meet Sam.  Get to know us a little better, what we all about, why we are always so dang excited about Safe Zones. We are the dynamic duo behind this brand new resource and we really hope you enjoy it! Half queer-identified, half active ally extraordinaire, living in the south and the north, one likes peas and the other likes carro — you get the idea.

Tell us how we can better help you!

This was a huge undertaking between us, and something we’ve spent many sleepless hour on Google+ Hangouts discussing, planning, and putting into action. But this launch is very much a Minimum Viable Product, if you’re into that sort of thing, or you might call it an Open Beta. In any case, what we are trying to say is it is just the beginning, and it is far from done. Help us guide where it goes in the future by letting us know what you need, what resources you are looking for, and how we can best help you fulfill your sexuality and gender education dreams. Here are some things we have baking in the oven to give you an idea of what we think you would like:

  • An All-Star Facilitator track with articles, how-tos, exercises, and reflections to help take your facilitation to the next level.
  • Interactive Safe Zone Workshop Curriculum Creator™– pick one activity, choose another, grab a third or fourth, then download them all as one pre-made curriculum complete with a participant packet and additional resources
  • A survey of all the schools in the country’s Safe Zone offerings, as well as a basic assessment of what their program / department offers. Help us by adding your school.

Leave a comment below with any thoughts, feedback, or requests you have!

We look forward to this adventure!

Meg & Sam

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This is Meg Bolger, Safe Zone Project Co-Creator Wed, 17 Jul 2013 07:27:10 +0000 Why hi there! I’m Meg and it’s already a pleasure.

I wanted to take hot second of your time to tell you a little more about myself (other than what you’ve already scoured through on our bio page) and also why I am stoked to be 1/2 of this Safe Zone dedicated project we’ve got going on here.

Now just to clarify Sam and I are not the same person.  I do not look that good in salmon colored pants, trust.  However, we do share there are parts of our stories that lead us to where we are today both doing what we do (and love) and to this very site here.

The short of it?  Like Sam, I would be who I am or be doing what I do without Safe Zone trainings. The long?  Well let’s begin at…

The Beginning

Freshman year of college, little baby Meg comes out to herself, her family, her friends, and her new friends at college.  Her very first meeting at her college’s (Hamilton!) Rainbow Alliance she hears about these Safe Zone trainings.  They don’t have them at Hamilton yet but a near by university is going to send a professional LGBTQ staffer (because they have one of those… which is cool) to host one at Hamilton. Meg thinks this is neat.

Flash to sophomore year, I start using I statements and I finally attends the long awaited Safe Zone workshop.  While it a tad rushed the experience, I’m totally hooked. Hamilton has no Safe Zone program or LGBTQ office.  My supplies consist of the information I was given in that single Safe Zone I attended and my experience from being a participant in the workshop, but its enough.  I start prepping to faciliate more trainings and well you could say the rest is history… but let’s get into it a little more.

Because Hamilton didn’t have any Safe Zone program I went at it alone.  Reinventing the wheel a little, writing up all my own definitions, curriculum, activities, outlines, feedback forms you name it.  It was both exhilarating and exhausting.  I dreamed then of a website just like this – where activities and curriculum could be laid out for me to browse through, edit, make my own, and use freely.  AND now there is.

The Present

When I say that Safe Zones are what got me to where I am and in many ways to who I am today, that is no exaggeration.  My first experience facilitating a Safe Zone workshop set me on a path towards becoming the diversity and specifically gender/sexuality educator I am today.  It lead me to interact with mentors who encouraged me to found my own business, it helped me grow, develop, and learn so much of what I hold near and dear today.

Because Safe Zone workshops had such a transformative effect on me I take um real seriously.  I don’t mean that I sit down with a stern look and let people know that this is not to be taken lightly.  I think that having fun, enjoying the learning process (and the teaching process), and being able to laugh while learning about these topics is essential both to encouraging more people to participate and helping the information stick.  When I say I take diversity education seriously, what I mean is sometimes you only get one shot.  Sometimes the person sitting across from you may never sit down and chat about LGBTQ/sexuality/gender like this again.  So how can you do your best?  How can you leave that lasting impression so that when that person walks away from the workshop you know that they got it.

That’s where this project comes in.  That’s why I’ve pour myself into this website, these activities, our additional little resources, trying to make it all as “navigateable” and accessible as possible. I want to make sure that everyone who enters a Safe Zone workshops leaves being able to say, I learned something that I didn’t know, I felt safe asking questions, and that was awesome.

So! With that! Go check out our ready-to-rock curriculum, check out the activities we got up, see how you can contribute and what we have already got in the works.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Hugs and rainbows.


Meet Sam Killermann, Safe Zone Project Co-Creator Wed, 17 Jul 2013 00:40:57 +0000 Hey friends! Sam here.

I wanted to take a moment to tell you a bit about myself (than what’s on our bio page) and explain why I’m so excited about this project Meg and I put together for you.

First off, a confession: if it weren’t for Safe Zone trainings (or ally trainings, in general), I don’t know where I’d be today, or what I’d be doing, but I can tell you it absolutely would not be what I’m doing now. And I love what I’m doing now.

Let me explain.

There once was a naive & ignorant first-year student at Purdue University called Sam…

He wasn’t aware of his ignorance, mind you, but that’s where the naivety comes in. Ever since Sam was little, people incorrectly assumed him to be gay. This led to a lot of bullying, negativity, confusion, and discomfort for Sam — and he didn’t understand it one bit. Sam had never attended a “diversity training” and would have scoffed at the idea.

Luckily, thanks to the “FreeZONE” portion of orientation at Purdue, Sam participated in his first discussion about diversity without even realizing it happened. And — unsurprisingly, if you know Sam as well as I do — he was hooked. He sought out as many conversations like this as he could find in his first years at Purdue, and found himself spending a lot of time visiting student organization meetings, the Queer Resource Center (where he received his first Safe Zone training) and striking up conversations about identity, sexuality, and gender with strangers in his dorm lobby (usually over a game of pool).

After a couple years of these conversations, he knew that “social justice” was something he was absolutely behind, and he started working in that direction. He joined a diversity theatre troupe, where the group did sketches and monologues for first-year students on issues related to identity, discrimination, and oppression. He did ally trainings and Safe Zone workshops. And he went on to grad school at Bowling Green where he studied College Student Personnel, worked in first-year programs, and focused most of his “free” time developing and facilitating diversity education programs.

And now there’s a less-ignorant, less-naive person called Sam.

You’ll never catch me saying I know everything. In fact, I hold fast to Aristotle’s “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know” and aspire toward Socrate’s “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” But I digress. I have come a long way in this near-decade since this journey began.

I believe in the power of workshops like Safe Zone to have transformative effects on participants — I’m a product of such a transformation. I also believe that the potential for that to happen lies as much in the program’s curriculum as it does in the educator. I’ve spent a good chunk of my spring working with Meg on this project because we want to take out the guesswork and provide social justice educators to have the best tool possible when it comes to gender and sexuality training — and I believe this is it.

Safe Zone is near and dear to me, and so is this project. I’ve thrown all of my knowledge from years and years of social justice training and educating at this, and I’m only one-half of the equation. I hope that means as much to you as it does to me.

Explore the site. Check out our activities, download the curriculum, and let us know how they go. You won’t be disappointed. And you might even inspire a life-changing transformation in a young me on your campus.

But maybe it’s for the best you don’t — I’m not sure we can handle more than one me running around.

Peace, Love, & Safe Zone.


Under Construction – Check back Mid-July Thu, 13 Jun 2013 14:58:29 +0000 Hi friend! Thanks for stopping by! This site is super under construction, and won’t be in working order for another little bit. When it’s ready, it’ll be a fantastic, free, and effective resource for people who conduct Safe Zone workshops. In the meantime, just keep dancing with Ellen.

How’d you hear about us? You should say “hi!” on Twitter, where we’ll keep folks updated with the progress of the site.

See you soon!

Meg & Sam