Homophobic incidents at Wits have prompted the university to launch a new programme to encourage tolerance and acceptance on campus.

A recent example was a lesbian couple having a copy of Vuvuzela torn up in front of them. They had appeared holding hands in a photo published in the campus newspaper.

Spearheaded by the Wits transformation office, the programme is called Safe Zones@Wits. Both places and people could become “safe zones”, according to Anzio Jacobs, programme spokesperson. In combination, the entire campus would eventually be a “safe zone”.

Anyone could go through training to become a “safe zone”, and those who were suitable would then act as peer counsellors and allies to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) community.

Jacobs described it as “a community helping [another] community”. “It’s not [just] about tolerance, it’s about acceptance.” He said homophobia was often influenced by ignorance and graduates should leave Wits with a better understanding of different people.

Based on a tried-and-tested American version, the programme was first launched as a project in 2011, as part of Wits Pride. It has since been expanded and will soon re-launch, starting with diversity workshops at residences.

Last year, an international student sent the transformation office an email threatening to “wipe” gay students from the campus if Wits Pride went ahead. Wits Pride is an annual march for the LGBTQIA community and allies. This is one of many examples of homophobia on campus that Safe Zones@Wits aims to redress.

Jacobs explained that Wits “has to start somewhere” with regard to marginalised communities. His office focuses on decreasing social injustice at Wits and said any student who felt marginalised could contact his office with ideas for initiatives similar to Safe Zones@Wits.

The programme will run with slogans like “Not in our classes” and “Not at our Wits”. A poster campaign will call for allies to join training.

If students want more information, they can contact Jacobs at cameron.jacobs@wis.ac.za or visit his office in SH9005.