By Domenic Fraboni and Torri Jordan
Inclusion. Acceptance. Respect. They are easy words to say, however, incorporating them into your daily routine, life, career, or corporation can prove to be more difficult than three spoken words. The difficulty lies in the fact that, as individuals, we do not know how to be completely accepting, or respectful of everyone we may encounter. There are certain cultures, ethnicities, or under-represented groups that may have a vastly different style or standard of communication that can sometimes cause misunderstandings, or result in unwanted/unintended hurt. This is where Torri Jordan comes in. Torri is a first year PhD student in Immunology in the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. They played soccer at University of MN, Morris, have a passion for people, and enjoy improvisation. Upon arriving at Mayo Clinic, Torri recognized a lack of community and support for those who identify as LGBTQ within the graduate school, and knew that something needed to be done to increase the comfort for those LGBTQ identifying people working in the Mayo Family. Torri decided to do this through the LGBTI Mayo Employee Resource Group (MERG).
In the past months, Torri followed the path needed to officially form the student subcommittee of the LGBTI MERG. Through this group, Torri and the LGBTI MERG executives believed this group could offer students a learning tool as to how operations work within a large organization. The students will be able to utilize this group as a systematic avenue to illuminate potential need for change when needed. Torri hopes that this group will be able to begin their mission with two major tasks: 1) grow awareness for (and hopefully, eventually install) safe zone/advocacy training for Mayo College students and faculty and 2) increase the normalization of using pronouns for all people, not just those who may need to speak out about the pronouns they use. Torri and the group held their first, in-person meeting in early March, and hit the ground running. With an early list of 30+ potential advocates and allies, please let Torri know if you are interested in helping the MERG out.
Safe spaces have always been a hot topic surrounding schools, work spaces, or community areas that may be comprised of a very diverse population. When visiting with Torri, they told me that they are very fond of the Safe Zone Project and the 2-hour, downloadable curriculum they provide for safe zone training. This training includes invaluable information for future providers, and all human beings, to be able to effectively communicate with anyone who identifies LGBTQ. There are sections within this training that provide information about helpful vocabulary within the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ language “Do’s and Don’t’s,” what to do when someone comes out, and even a fun game called “Privileges for Sale.” If you have a chance, check out the Genderbread Person. Definitely my favorite part! With a widespread, educational session like this, I can see medicine starting to rectify some of the healthcare disparities that exist for the LGBTQ population.
Pronouns. Why do we use them? Simple words that describe so much and can have very impactful meaning. Here is a quick link to information about pronouns, both binary and non-binary, and why they are important. It is difficult to imagine, as a straight, cisgender male, how I may feel if those that surrounded me continued to call me be the wrong pronoun, say “she.” And no matter how much I told people or how hard I tried to explain to them, they still couldn’t understand why I was instead telling them to use “he”. Torri wants to make it commonplace for individuals to feel open about their pronouns, feel comfortable sharing what they are to be called with people, and ultimately open dialogue about how this one issue can cause to much stress for individuals that don’t use their assigned at birth pronouns. After all, what is the first question on most medical intake forms? (Hint: Male or Female: Circle one.) A simple way to share with everyone what your pronouns are: insert them into your email signature. My ultimate rule for helping to avoid mis-gendering someone, just ask. Don’t assume. When one of those strategies may be unknowingly insulting to one party, the other can help to burst open channels of communication that are full of inclusion, acceptance, and respect.
Though all of the above may seem like fairly simple things to instill or get up and running but, it’s less about the act of sending initiatives forward, as it is about changing culture. Many of the things that the LGBTI Student Subcommittee is proposing might be brand new to many members of the Mayo College community, or if it isn’t new, people may not realize the importance of fighting to advocate for those proposals. Safe Zone/Advocacy training is not useful if people don’t take away the thoughts learned and aim to make them common place in their life. Making pronoun use commonplace doesn’t help if cis people don’t also participate, or correct people when they misgender others. The LGBTI MERG Student Subcommittee aims to not only create more room for advocacy and learning, but promote a change in culture to be more inclusive for LGBTQ folks, something that is lacking in the current state of the Graduate School (and potentially Mayo College wide). Torri, and the rest of the students are eager to start changing culture, and are hoping to start creating a space that is more comfortable for LGBTQ folks to exist in. And they hope that other people are able to learn and become advocates for groups that are otherwise marginalized in science, and in everyday life.
Change starts with initiatives and can only happen through advocacy and systemic change at the institutional level.
Acknowledgements: Sending a big thanks to Torri and all the students who are working on bringing attention to these areas that we need to work on and develop within the medical community. Thank you for your continued efforts on the LGBTI MERG student sub-committee and for the efforts of all the MERG's around Mayo that are trying to optimize the experience of all employees in the Mayo Clinic system.
Torri L. Jordan is a first year immunology PhD student who is passionate about science communication and accessibility. They believe that science can be accessed by anyone, and wants to help break down the systemically created barriers that keep people from pursuing the science they wish to have. When they aren’t in lab, they can be found playing soccer, performing improv, or spending time with their cat Rozwell.