By Channa Buxbaum
On Thursday, February 6th, anonymous student activists began sharing a petition titled “Counseling Center LGBTQ+ Safe Zone Sticker” with undergraduate Yeshiva University students. The petition explained that intolerance faced on campus has fostered a profound sense of anxiety and isolation in LGBTQ+ students which necessitates creating a clearly supportive environment in the counseling centers. It was ultimately asserted that posting a safe zone sticker is “an issue of pikuach nefesh,” a matter of life and death.
The anonymous organizer informed the YU Observer that although many LGBTQ+ students have received substantial care at the Counseling Center, others need extra assurance that its administration will truly make room for all components of their identity. “Increasing accessibility to all YU students, and especially LGBT+ students who may really need support, should be the Counseling Center’s utmost priority and a safe zone sticker can do just that,” added the petition organizer.
The petition has garnered substantial support from fellow students, many of whom agree that posting a safe zone sticker is a vital step in cementing the Counseling Center’s credibility as a judgement-free forum where mental health struggles can be expressed without fear. The Beren and Wilf counseling centers’ repeated refusal to meet the request, argues Sarah Last, SCW ’21, “is actively saying we, as LGBTQ+ individuals, are not welcome even at the ‘safest space’ on campus.”
Zippy Spanjer, SCW ’21, points out that “it’s a little odd that there are safe space stickers on faculty offices but the Counseling Center—a place where the last thing a student should have to worry about is their orientation or identity—doesn’t have one.”
The matter of integrating mental health advocacy with LGBTQ+ inclusivity arose earlier in February, when some students criticized Active Minds’ Stomp Out the Stigma event for its lack of LGBTQ+ representation. In a recent letter to the editor published in The Commentator, former Active Minds president Etan Neiman expressed his frustration with the negative feedback. “The purpose of SOTS is to stomp out the mental illness (MI) stigma — not stigmas in general. To lump in other wrongly stigmatized groups… would not be in line with the event’s crucial focus.” Neiman maintained that while LGBTQ+ well-being should be a priority for YU, “it is not fair to expect nor proper for Active Minds to make LGBTQ activism part of their mission.”
Other students have expressed similar sentiment concerning the Counseling Center’s specific responsibility to the LGBTQ+ community in YU. To these students, it seems implicit in the nature of a counseling center to be a space of emotional protection, and therefore a sticker is redundant. One anonymous student even worried that defining an LGBTQ+ safe zone is “making a statement” and may therefore harm the Counseling Center’s baseline inclusivity toward all students. “Students that don’t necessarily agree with this issue might feel uncomfortable seeing those stickers everywhere.”
“The Counseling Center should be an implicit safe space, but it’s not,” argued Hadassah Penn, SCW ‘20, co-president of Active Minds. “For many LGBTQ+ students, the idea of an implicit safe space simply doesn’t exist. Students sit in class, which should be a neutral space of learning, and instead end up being attacked for their identities, or they overhear conversations that other students are having about their right to exist. When that is the general campus environment, naturally LGBTQ+ students are wary about opening up,” she said. “I signed that petition because safe spaces save lives.”
Photo: The header of the petition