University News

Health Services to become more transgender-inclusive

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

In early February, Health Services hired a consultant to examine how the office could improve its training, forms, environment and advertising to be more transgender-inclusive, according to Francie Mantak, its director of health education.

The hire came immediately after two members of GenderAction, a subgroup of Queer Alliance that focuses on issues of gender identity and expression, met with Mantak about expanding the office’s transgender inclusivity.

GenderAction defines transgender as “someone who expresses their gender differently from the way people would traditionally expect someone of their biological sex,” said Julia Dahlin ’12, a member of the group. She added that the organization also deals with gender variants, which “can be an umbrella for transsexual and a variety of other identifications.”

Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, met with Dahlin and Elizabeth Duthinh ’12, also a member of GenderAction, in November to discuss GenderAction’s planned projects, including improving transgender inclusivity in Health and Psychological Services. 

“We talked about how services (for transgender students) are presented at both Health Services and Psychological Services,” Klawuun said. 

She referred Duthinh and Dahlin to the directors of each office they wished to work with, including Mantak.

After Mantak met with Duthinh and Dahlin, Health Services outlined several areas for improvement and hired Sarah Bowman ’06 as a consultant. Mantak said that while at Brown, Bowman — who is currently earning her master’s in public health at Yale — worked to make University housing policies transgender-inclusive.

Bowman said she hopes to “give perspective on different strategies that have been used” to improve transgender inclusivity.

One of Health Services’ first priorities is training its personnel on different transgender issues, beginning with primary caregivers and extending to office staff. Mantak said she hopes to eventually have a Health Services staff member who specializes in transgender issues and plans to advertise the specialist to Brown’s transgender community.

Bowman said she hopes that the “education they do with their providers is backed up by looking at some of the bigger questions that come up,” such as the office’s forms, signs, educational materials and advertising campaigns.

The office plans to revise its forms to give transgender students the opportunity to state a preferred name or pronoun that is different from the one listed in their medical files or insurance information, Mantak said.

Bowman said the office would also investigate what flexibility there is in electronic medical records for filling in people’s names and gender preferences.

“Forms have always been an issue,” said Alex Kravitz ’13, a gender-queer student who identifies as male.

Health Services also intends to revise any signage around the building that might be discriminatory, Mantak said.

Beyond the office, Mantak is looking to expand information on transgender issues on the Health Services Web site and in its printed material. For example, Mantak said, Health Services’ recent poster campaign on gynecological visits would be revised to encourage females of all gender identities to schedule an exam. The office also plans to release a poster addressing the negative impacts of transphobia in health care settings.

Kravitz said he hopes to see improvements in Health Services’ educational materials, including changing pamphlets on safe sex to be more inclusive of transgender students.
Once improvements have been made, advertising the changes to the transgender community will be key, Mantak said.

The office will work to see what information needs to be available so that students perceive Health Services as a place where, “as a trans-student, as a trans-patient,” they will receive “responsible” care, Bowman said.

So far, Duthinh and Dahlin are pleased with how well the issue was received at Health Services.

“It is so much better for this to have happened in a preventive way,” Dahlin said. “Brown really took initiative.”

Duthinh and Dahlin are “a good example of students who have come with clear aims,” Klawuun said. “We are excited about the possibilities, so it represents a good collaboration.”

Duthinh and Dahlin also hope to enact similar changes in Psychological Services, especially improvements in referral services for students with gender identity issues.
Dahlin said they have not yet met with anyone from Psychological Services, but that she and Duthinh “look forward to working with them.”

In order to improve transgender inclusivity on campus beyond Health and Psychological Services, “education is just key,” Kravitz said.

“I’m going about every day as a gender-variant person, and sometimes I’ll be reminded that not everyone knows about being gender-variant,” Kravitz added. “No matter how informed someone considers themselves, there’s always something they can learn, things even I can learn.”

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