Helping to ensure EPFL is a Safe Space

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L-R Carmela Troncoso, Deirdre Rochat, Chiara Ercolani, Alias Poma © 2021 EPFL

L-R Carmela Troncoso, Deirdre Rochat, Chiara Ercolani, Alias Poma © 2021 EPFL

A new initiative to support LGBTIQ+ communities at EPFL has been launched, creating a space for dialogue and growth, and helping our campus to be more inclusive and attentive to LGBTIQ+ topics.

Safe Space , a new cross campus and grassroots project, months in the making and backed by the Vice Presidency of Responsible Transformation, aims to support EPFL’s LGBTIQ+ communities by building a network of queer people and allies, and a space to share experiences to create positive change. Safe Space launches as Pride Month ends, to ensure that EPFL’s LGBTIQ+ communities have support all year long.

Safe Space for positive change Those driving Safe Space forward include School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) PhD candidate Chiara Ercolani, UNIL student Alias Poma, Assistant Professor Carmela Troncoso and Head of Communications Deirdre Rochat, both in the School of Computer Science and Communication (IC). Ercolani says while the COVID pandemic delayed the launch of Safe Space, the original motivation behind the initiative remains unchanged.

"LGBTIQ+ communities are an invisible minority as we can’t recognize each other on the street and, because of this, it’s important that we are more visible on the EPFL campus. There are a lot of queer people at EPFL and there are certain things that we can help each other with. We also often have a shared set of experiences, for example in coming out to our families but also a boss, which is what I had to do personally. Sometimes, just knowing that there are other people that went through similar experiences in a similar context can really help," she says.

For Carmela Troncoso, Safe Space is so important because it can be difficult to find help with mainstream support services that often have little experience of broader LGBTIQ+ problems. "We wanted to help create a space where LGBTIQ+ communities could both have a voice and find help with people who have faced similar issues for example, discrimination, trying to navigate parental or marriage leave in a same-sex relationship, or gender marker change. We don’t want anyone to feel alone or unsafe. I really hope Safe Space will be something that can be replicated to help other minorities. A safe environment is important to increase diversity and at the end of the day, diversity brings diversity, making EPFL a more inclusive place."

Complementing existing services

In the pilot phase, more than 15 members are ready to provide support to anyone who would like to contact them, including Professor Gisou van der Goot, EPFL’s Vice President for Responsible Transformation. "Safe Space certainly broadens and complements EPFL’s existing support services to address harassment and discrimination. Supporting a bottom-up initiative like this is part of our broader efforts to reinforce values such as inclusion and diversity throughout the campus and I’m proud to be a member," she said.

All Safe Space members are familiar with LGBTIQ+ topics and escalation procedures for the needs of LGBTIQ+ communities. Anyone looking to talk about professional or personal struggles, or wanting to meet more members of LGBTIQ+ communities at EPFL, is encouraged to reach out to one of the Safe Space members.

Whilst having faced discrimination in the past, Chiara Ercolani is encouraged that there are many on campus willing to help the LGBTQ+ community, but reflects that sometimes they don’t know how. Safe Space, she says, can provide this opportunity, "We encourage everyone to engage with our community. Even if you haven’t had a lot of exposure to queer topics and are afraid of potentially saying the wrong thing, nobody is going to mind as long as you come with a good heart and a willingness to learn. And speak out! Call out discrimination in day-to-day life, if it is safe for you to do so, just the process of doing this is so important and could really make EPFL and Switzerland a better place."

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