September 29, 2015

Student success focus of Alabama’s first conference on transgender students in higher ed

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As gender identity and gender expression are an area of growing diversity on college campuses nationwide, leaders at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are taking steps to ensure that individuals who identify themselves as transgender and gender nonconforming, often generally referred to as transgender or trans, can be successful at UAB.

UAB’s medical and mental health providers and student services leaders attended the Supporting Trans Students mini-conference Sept. 28-29; it was the first event of its kind at an institution of higher education in Alabama. Organizers say the effort is consistent with the institution’s longstanding commitment to diversity and support of student success.

“UAB has well-established policies that position us as an institution providing a leadership example in the areas of welcoming and inclusion of all students in the provision of educational programs and other services,” said Vice President of Student Affairs John R. Jones III, Ph.D. “In support of student success on one of the nation’s most diverse campuses, UAB will continue our commitment to meet the needs of all our students, and I commend those advancing this effort.”

Student Health and Wellness Counseling Services Director Angela Stowe, Ph.D., says faculty and staff work very hard within the campus community to address the needs of students who may require additional services or resources to optimize their ability to thrive in higher education and life.

“Each student at UAB has challenges to overcome in getting the most out of his or her time here, and there are countless services and resources across this campus dedicated to addressing them,” Stowe said. “While the transgender community may be small on campus, it is our duty to help our students succeed, and this initiative is evidence of UAB’s commitment to our students’ success.”

The Supporting Trans Students mini-conference began with a Trans 101 Opening Session for all attendees, led by Gabriel C. Javier, M.A., assistant dean/director of the LGBT Campus Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Javier leads a team of content experts on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people at UW and helped develop the integrated model of trans-inclusive health services. He is past co-chair of the Consortium of LGBT Higher Education Resource Professionals.

Breakout sessions followed, covering medical, mental health and student services tracks. Student Health and Wellness personnel attended the medical and/or mental health tracks appropriate to their duties, to ensure providers of such services are trained and competent in meeting the needs of transgender students. The Student Services track was open to leaders of student service across the university to prepare UAB personnel to provide compliant, appropriate and supportive services.

Student Services track goals included:

  • Educate student services leaders about the needs of trans students on campus and the responsibility of our institution to address their unique needs,
  • Inform student services leaders about the existing and available resources on campus and in the community for trans students,
  • Provide consultation to UAB student services areas about how to establish and provide appropriate and relevant services, and
  • Bring student services departments together to have a unified discussion and establish plans of action in order to avoid fragmentation of initiatives and services.

Clinically, transgender individuals are frequently diagnosed with gender dysphoria — a condition broadly defined as discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth. This discrepancy, and the societal acceptance or discrimination against transgender individuals, contributes to significantly greater health risks, including but not limited to greatly increased suicide ideation, up to 64 percent; actual suicide attempts, ranging between 16 and 37 percent; and greater likelihood of becoming a victim of violence, 27 percent.

Assistant Vice President for Student Development, Health and Wellness Jake Baggott says this conference, which gathered UAB leaders in targeted areas, is a first of many steps that will take place on campus to meet the health and wellness needs of a diverse student population. 

“Student Health and Wellness staff place a premium on providing a comfortable, safe and respectful environment for all students,” Baggott said. “We take this responsibility seriously, and we will continue to offer the highest standards of medical and mental health care and support for all students.”

Baggott says Student Health and Wellness will provide student-centered integrated health and mental health care for students across the gender spectrum, which he expects to positively impact academic performance, retention and mental health status for students.

“This is an important practical and symbolic initiative,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Our overall commitment to advance student services, health and wellness, and the mental health needs of our entire student population is vital to our success as a pre-eminent comprehensive university and academic medical center in the 21st century.”

The Supporting Trans Students mini-conference was sponsored by UAB’s Department of Human Studies, Housing and Residential Life, Multicultural and Diversity Programs, Office of Gender and Sexuality Diversity, and Student Health and Wellness Center, as well as UAB Title IX.

Learn more about the conference at www.uab.edu/studenthealth/transgender.

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