For Teachers

Why we don’t certify “Safe Zone Trainers” (and don’t plan to).

Sam Killermann

When Meg and I launched this project back in 2013, we had one clear goal: to build a free online resource for creating powerful, effective LGBTQ awareness and ally training workshops.

The hows of that goal have expanded a bit (so far: with our updates to the curriculumonline trainings, new activities, facilitator education series, and book about facilitation), but the what has not.

For every new offering or expansion, Meg and I engage in a consensus decision-making process, and the eventual decision is generally made by answering the question: “Will this new offering be free, online, and/or helpful in creating powerful safe zone trainings?”

We’re clear about what we want the Safe Zone Project to be, and, perhaps more so we are clear about what we do not want it to become. Which brings us to certifying safe zone trainers, something Meg and I do not want the Safe Zone Project to do.

Deciding not to certify safe zone trainers wasn’t as simple as answering the question above. Instead, the decision is one that rooted in a fundamental understanding of social justice work, this project, and our individual perspectives on both.

In the rest of this post, I’ll explain why I am opposed to certifying safe zone trainers, and am not thrilled about certifications in general.

An important clarification up front: for anyone who completes one of our trainings, we’re happy to provide you with a certificate that says you did, but that only says that: “You completed [blank] training with the Safe Zone Project.” It is not meant to – and does not – certify you as a safe zone, as an expert, or as a trainer.

That’s not our place. Below are my (Sam’s) thoughts on why.

Certifying safe zone trainers would emblemize a problematic power relationship.

Actually, several: (1) between us, the certifiers, and the potential trainers; (2) between us, the certifiers, and groups that have populations that need to be trained; and (3) between us, the certifiers, and other organizations doing safe zone trainings and work. I’ll explain each briefly:

1. Certifications would create a problematic power relationship between us and the potential trainers because they put us in a position to either grant, or withhold, a certification, thus empowering or disempowering a person’s ability to be a safe zone trainer. Further, we could (or would have to) install barriers that would have to be navigated in order to be certified (time, money, knowledge, etc.). Who are we to say who is and isn’t good enough to be a trainer? 

2. The problematic power relationship would extend to groups that have populations that need to be trained because they, or others, might see our certification as a necessary credential in the trainers they want to bring it — or even just as a perk. Both have their own issues. Who are we to say who is and isn’t good enough to train your population?

3. And granting certifications would create a problematic power relationship between us (the Safe Zone Project) and other organizations doing safe zone trainings because it would create (or add to) the “who is the official/best/right/etc. org?” question game. We don’t want folks valuing our work more, or valuing anyone else’s less, because we position ourselves as the certifier of safe zone trainers. Quite the opposite: it’s our hope that this project can continue to supplement and support other organizations doing this work. Who are we to say our approach to safe zone is worth certifying while others’ approaches are not?

It would add to a problem similar to one that we were trying to solve: who’s right?

The problem that led us to creating this project was how many different “safe zone trainings” there were out there, and how little ubiquity there was in what it meant to be safe zone trained. There are over 17,000 trainers and educators around the world using our curriculum in a variety of capacities (from verbatim as printed, to modified to the point of unrecognizability – all awesome!).

I don’t care so much about whose curriculum is the most-perfect, the best, or the “right” curriculum – I just want to get good tools into the hands of people trying to do good work. Our safe zone curriculum is one of many, and we hope that folks will use it in whatever ways work best for them (even if that’s simply to improve their own curriculum).

Along these lines, I see us certifying safe zone trainers as adding to the problem of “who’s right?” But instead of on the curriculum front, on the facilitator/trainer front. Instead of claiming ownership over the ways we train trainers, and certifying trainers in our programs or educational values, I’d rather just provide as much education and free resources for trainers as possible, and allow them to use that in whatever ways they see fit.

And, ultimately, we don’t have the capacity to do it well.

For a certification to mean anything significant, or create more good than harm (or at least indifference), it needs, at least, (1) careful design in what qualifies one as certified; (2) continuing education and support for certificate holders, and for those seeking certified folks; and (3) a continued verification that certified folks are living up to the standards of the certificate.

This project is primarily operated by just us two people, in addition to a million other things we do. That list above is far beyond us, and would require us to entirely refocus our energies, and the nature of this project, in ways that would distract us from why we started it to begin with: to be a free online resource for creating powerful, effective LGBTQ awareness and ally training workshops.

We’re going to keep focusing on doing that, improving that, and being that as well as we can.