Safe Spaces is an initiative that aims to create an environment which is safe and open for all students.
With the momentum of the Me Too movement, Anthropology Professor Anastasia Panagakos said the motivations of the program hasn’t altered.
“I don’t think it’s changed,” Panagakos said. “It’s made its importance even stronger.”
There is no place for bias or discrimination on campus, Panagakos said.
“Our commitment is making the campus a safe space for all learners,” English Professor Heather Hutcheson said.
Hutcheson, who is part of the Safe Spaces program, said this commitment is something that the members of the program constantly thinks about.
College isn’t just to grow as a student, Hutcheson added.
“It’s not just to develop academically,” Hutcheson said. “It’s to become stronger, overall.”
A student came forward during a board meeting in February with a claim of sexual assault involving a former faculty member who was also part of the Safe Spaces Program.
In addition to filing a lawsuit against the former employee, the student also sued the Los Rios Community College District and the Los Rios Federation of Teachers Union.
Hutcheson said this lawsuit has shed light onto behavior that was “tolerated.”
“It was probably a wake up call for a lot of people,” Panagakos said.
At the moment, Panagakos said the campus is in a phase of raising awareness for sexual assault and is building up to action.
“The campus is struggling to find a path,” Panagakos said.
Panagakos said the allegation specifically raised conversation about what defines sexual harassment.
“We don’t know what constitutes as harassment,” Panagakos said, adding that is the reason why staff and faculty must go through training. “We forget there are sometimes gray areas.”
Student Life and Leadership Center Coordinator Winnie LaNier said that the program doesn’t “cut out sexual assault.”
“It’s okay to fight against negative attacks on people,” LaNier said. “You don’t have to just get over it.”
Faculty must act upon instances of bias, discrimination or intolerance they have witnessed or experienced as part of the Safe Spaces pledge, according to the Safe Spaces webpage.
“I think a really good thing to live by is that if you see something, you say something,” Hutcheson said.
Panagakos said that the idea of there being a truly “safe” space is something that the members of the program always think about.
“No place is completely safe,” Panagakos said.
Panagakos said that an employee decides they would like to be part of the program, in which they then complete training or workshops on becoming an “effective ally.”
Panagakos said there is an assumption that the district trusts all their employees who were hired and that the program is going by, “good faith” when a person chooses to be part of Safe Spaces.
“We understand that the district has failed in some level,” Panagakos said.
LaNier said that even if this screening process were to change, there is no way to guarantee that everyone with bad intentions will be “caught.”
Panagakos further added that it’s unfortunate when situations like this happen, saying they are not a proper reflection of the Safe Spaces program.
Ultimately, LaNier said that while students may not trust the institutionalization of services like Safe Spaces, the program has more benefits than drawbacks.
“It does more good than harm,” LaNier said.
Panagakos said students can talk to members of Safe Spaces if their issues don’t need police or counseling involvement.
“There are many, many people on campus who care about their well-being,” Panagakos said.
Panagakos encourages students to talk to staff and faculty in the program, and when they do see a Safe Spaces sticker, it’s an “open invitation” to talk to them.
In addition to Safe Spaces, the campus is partners with Women Escaping A Violent Environment and provides an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
“The presence of WEAVE on campus is great,” Panagakos said.
The WEAVE Confidential Advocate can be reached at (916) 568-3011 or by email at [email protected]
To find out whether a faculty or staff member is part of the Safe Spaces program, visit https://www.crc.losrios.edu/services/safespaces/safe-spaces-map.