Safe Spaces

BLACK students sit around the African American Student Affairs Center to learn about time management. (Photo by: Kayla Belcher/ Arizona Sonora News)

Fifty years having locations for only one race was seen as segregation.

Today, these so-called safe spaces are creating essential community for marginalized people to celebrate cultural and social values.

Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous, LGBTQ and many other marginalized people create safe spaces and communities in academic institutions all over the country.

Matthias Mehl, director of the Naturalistic Observation of Social Interaction Laboratory at the University of Arizona, believes dedicated spaces on college campus are important and help make students feel secure.

“Non-minority students don’t have to worry and feel safe in many, if not most, places on campus and so (they) can concentrate on what is the task ‘at hand’ — learning,” Mehl wrote, “Minority students, though, find themselves often in situations where they do not feel safe and therefore have to be vigilant and ‘on guard’.”

According to Mehl, the constant need to be alert makes students enter a fight or flight stress response that negatively impacts learning. They have a great need for a physical space to find comfort.

Northern Arizona University does not have a safe space for black or LGBTQ students on campus. Senior Tiffany Onyenagubo is the president of Black Student Union at NAU and she see a problem with not having a designated space to hold club meetings.

“You cannot recruit different students of color if you aren’t going to protect them,” Onyenagubo said.

According to Dr. Frederick Gooding Jr., an assistant professor of ethnic studies at NAU, and, only 3 percent of NAU’s student population identifies as African American. All together that 3 percent makes up less than 1,000 black students total on campus.

“Administration uses the small population as an excuse for not building a center… but I think these type of spaces are absolutely fundamental to success,” Gooding said.

Mel Ferrara is using the LGBTQ Resource Center has a comfortable space to do work. (Photo by: Kayla Belcher/ Arizona Sonora News)

The University of Arizona is home to several different centers dedicated to people in a variety of communities such as Hispanic, African American and LGBTQ identifying people.

The LGBTQ Resource Center at the UA hosts a safe zone workshop that helps train participants to reflect their own identities while also teaching people how to become knowledgeable allies for the community.

UA sophomore Rezwana Islam has gone through the safe zone training and is an active member at the LGBTQ Resource Center. She feels that dedicated centers are crucial to developing a sense of community.


“You don’t have to explain your identity to anyone else here…you can let go of your stress and be yourself,” Islam said.

Islam and many other students who are involved with safe spaces initially found it difficult to join a community because the people involved tend to be closely connected.

“Once you’re in, you’re family,” Islam said.

Kayla Belcher is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

Click here for a Word version of the story and high-resolution photos.

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