October 2, 2023

Laura Wilson: In the Zone

When UMW was invited to write messages to the LGBTQ+ community in October, 500 people penned notes of support. Organized by Safe Zone in honor of National Coming Out Day, the exercise remains among Laura Wilson’s favorite moments.

Rosalyn Cooperman

Rosalyn Cooperman is a psychology professor and director of UMW’s Safe Zone.

“That level of support from our campus citizens sends a really powerful message of inclusion,” said Wilson, Safe Zone director and a psychology professor whose scholarly research focuses on sexual assault and mass shootings.

It is exactly the message Safe Zone hoped to promote when it was founded in 2014. Made up of a committee of faculty, staff and students, the education and advocacy program also assesses campus climate and participates in awareness campaigns.

This week, Safe Zone will recognize Trans Visibility Day with several activities on campus, including working to find ways to better support transgender and gender non-conforming sexual assault survivors. For more information, visit http://students.umw.edu/multicultural/safe-zone-program/. You can also contact Wilson at lwilson5@umw.edu.

Q: How did you get involved in advocacy work?
A: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know firsthand what it feels like to be harassed and discriminated against because of my identity. My hope is that by engaging in advocacy, I can make life easier and safer for the next generation.

Q: What brought you to UMW?
A: I knew I wanted to be at a small, academically rigorous school where I would get to know my students. Since I was born and raised in Virginia, I was very familiar with UMW’s excellent reputation.

Q: How do your roles as psychology professor and Safe Zone director complement each other?
A: The LGBTQ+ community faces higher rates of poverty, stigma, discrimination, harassment, sexual violence and physical violence. My training in the field of clinical psychology certainly makes me better equipped to understand how stress and trauma impact psychological functioning.

Q: What’s the best part of your job as Safe Zone director?
A: I get to interact with faculty, staff and students I would not otherwise meet. I get to work with UMW community members from departments and offices all over campus. It’s a lot of fun!

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Changing policies and shifting people’s attitudes is a slow process. Luckily, I’ve seen overwhelming support for the Safe Zone program. The campus community has really invested in the mission.

Q: Have you seen much progress since Safe Zone began at UMW?
A: Over 200 faculty/staff and 200 students have completed at least one Safe Zone training. Our campus is more aware of the amazing resources we do have, such as our LGBTQ+ affirming counseling services, gender inclusive housing, and gender inclusive restrooms. We’ve also made improvements to a wide range of campus policies and we will continue.

Q: Is there a motto you live by?
A: The unofficial motto of Safe Zone this year is “love who you are.” It perfectly represents what I hope to foster in LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff on our campus.