University of South Australia welcomes ‘safe space’ for queer-identifying students

By Giorgina McKay | @ggmckay11

The Rainbow Club at University of South Australia’s Magill campus welcomed a new ‘safe space’ for LGBTQIA+ students on March 28.

The space, held in room C1-57, is the first of its kind at UniSA.

President of the Rainbow Club, Natrydd Sigurthur said “Most universities have a ‘safe space’ or ‘queer space’ for queer students, but UniSA is, unfortunately, one of the few in South Australia that doesn’t have one.”

“(That’s why) we took it upon ourselves here to have a pop-up rainbow room, and we thought Magill was the best place to start”.

Although the space is currently on a trial basis only, Natrydd, who identifies as gender neutral, hopes to establish queer-friendly spaces across all metropolitan campuses in the future.

“It’s on trial at the metro campuses, so we definitely need to prove to the university that the students want this, and they’ll come and attend this space,” they said.

“You know, we never expected 20-40 people to turn up on the one day, and we made that very clear to them, and they were very understanding.

“But it’s going to be really big for queer students”.

The ‘safe space’ is a chance for students to see what it’s like to have a safe, autonomous space on campus.

Natrydd said it’s also an opportunity for LGBTQIA+ people to meet other people like them, helping them to feel less isolated.

“Being able to have a queer space means that queer students are able to come into a non-judgmental environment where they have freedom of expression,” they said.

“When they come into a safe space—a rainbow room, a queer space, or whatever we’re going to call it—they can be themselves and no one’s going to judge them on that.”

Aiden Wang, a queer-identifying student, said the space wouldn’t directly affect them but was still a comforting thought.

“I have no trouble telling people I’m queer in public,” he said.

“It will bring me comfort knowing that if I was having some kind of queer crisis, I have a place to go to where people would have experienced a similar situation, and I can ask them for advice on how to deal with it.”

Mr. Wang also said it would potentially help other students, especially those who haven’t come out yet.

“They (students) can benefit from this by discussing with others about their experiences, and gain some insight and support, which could help them in coming out to their families and friends; and maybe accepting themselves too,” he said.

“This might also help queer students talk about topics like sex and in turn, encourage another to feel more comfortable about themselves without the fear of getting judged or being verbally abused.”

Recent studies have shown that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are three times more likely to experience depression compared to the broader population.

The Australian Human Rights Commission also discovered that LGBTQIA+ students face higher rates of sexual assault and harassment on campus than their cisgender and straight peers.

“I think there’s a misconception that this is about identity politics and protecting ‘snowflakes’, but it’s actually more about safety and, particularly, mental health,” Natrydd said.

“We know that students are having more mental health issues every year—there’s been all sorts of studies and reports out on that—so having a space that is welcoming, inclusive and feels safe reduces mental health crises.”

But Natrydd said so far the response has been really positive.

“There might be a few pockets of resistance in the university—the occasional bigoted student or staff member somewhere—but UniSA is really a fantastic and inclusive environment so it’s certainly going to help that”.

 

We strongly encourage anyone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts to seek professional help or contact one of the helplines below.

 

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 18 00

BeyondBlue – 1300 22 4636

Reach Out – 1800 184 527

 

 

Image Courtesy: University of South Australia’s Rainbow Club

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