University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service aims for LGBTQIA inclusivity

An auditor will provide Boynton with guidance on how to better serve the LGBTQIA community.

Aaron Job

In order to bolster inclusivity, Boynton Health Service will hire a consultant to study how its services can be better tailored to students of various sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Boynton announced the new consultant position earlier this month, and officials said the center plans to make the hire by the semester’s start. 

During the coming academic school year, the consultant will conduct an audit — interviewing Boynton’s faculty and staff, as well as reviewing Boynton’s materials such as pamphlets and forms. The auditor will then provide recommendations for how the University can improve service for the LGBTQIA community. 

Boynton partnered with the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life to create the position and received a grant from the Office for Equity and Diversity to fund it. 

“Coming out of that partnership is the idea of just benchmarking ourselves, and that will help to see where we are at currently. … That will help us determine where we want to go in the future — to make sure we are providing first-rate care for all of our students,” said Kate Elwell, Boynton’s health promotion specialist. 

Elwell said the position is geared toward a graduate student and will be compensated with a $4,000 stipend during the school year. 

Trevor Martinez, a recent University graduate — who identifies as gay — said he thinks Boynton was helpful but recalled a visit where he said a staff member used heteronormative language. 

“During a routine questionnaire on medical [sexual] history and behavior, the staff member questioning me used female pronouns for my partner,” Martinez said. “The pronoun of a potential partner was just something I may not have noticed or had to think about had a gender-neutral pronoun been used. The quality of my care, however, was not affected.”

Officials said the decision to organize an audit wasn’t spurred by complaints. Rather, they said, they wanted to be proactive in understanding the way LGBTQIA students respond to their health care procedures.

“I think there’s a lot of health disparities for LGBTQ people in general, and I think that definitely trickles down to students,” said Gender and Sexuality Center director Stef Wilenchek. “In terms of accessing health care … challenges are presented in terms of transphobia, homophobia and biphobia in any of the systems that students are having to encounter.”

While this is Boynton’s first time conducting a review specifically tailored for the LGBTQ community, Wilenchek said it’s not uncommon at other colleges for health services to work with campus centers designated for gender and sexuality issues. 

Jim Kellogg, the director of student health and wellness at the University of Iowa, said the student health center is currently working with the University’s LGBTQ Clinic — which serves the general public — to provide more health care options for LGBTQIA-identifying students. 

“We have an opportunity, with some of our medical staff, to shift some of that demand to pull as many students out of that clinic as we can and get them into our clinic,” Kellogg said. “I think initially we didn’t have the training we needed to provide that service, and we’re increasing our access by having more individuals trained.”

Sarah Van Orman, the executive director of University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said their health care service has worked with their on-campus LGBT Center to develop a framework for how the Center can provide comprehensive health care for students who identify as transgender.

“Now we have a pretty comprehensive program where we can provide really a full spectrum of health care for [transgender] students.”

When asked what an audit may hold for the future of health care for marginalized students, Wilencheck said, “At some point hopefully we’ll be doing broader surveys to really gauge students’ experiences of feeling accepted. … I think if anything, it’s a sign of more folks being educated or a sign of more folks understanding and taking action.”