Students behind the effort hope it will make navigating issues easier and be a resource for those seeking mentors.
The coronavirus pandemic caused a lot of Pride events to go virtual this month, but the BU Medical Campus LGBTQ+ community can celebrate a project designed to be online.
The new OUT & Ally list is a directory of clinicians, faculty, practitioners, researchers, staff, students, and trainees across the Medical Campus who identify as LGBTQ+ or as allies for the LGBTQ+ community. They join the list to make themselves available to LGBTQ+ students at the BU Schools of Medicine and of Public Health and the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine who are looking for mentors, guidance, and academic or nonacademic support.
The creation of the list was led by Isa Gell-Levey (MED’22) and Janet Monroe (MED’22), leaders of the BU Medical Campus Pride group for the 2019-2020 academic year. Last August they decided that they wanted more than the bare-bones Out List that had existed on the Medical Campus for years.
“I said to Janet, ‘Have you seen this Out List?’” Gell-Levey recalls. “‘It’s not great to search on, not a great representation of the full diversity of the Pride community.’ So the two of us decided to spearhead this project to revamp the list and get it updated. I’m not sure we knew exactly what we were getting into.”
They enlisted the aid of Katie Toro-Ferrari, MED director of student affairs. “I think people are hungry to connect and eager to have a place to find people and information and community,” says Toro-Ferrari. “Part of Student Affairs’ mission is to support diversity and inclusion, to make sure we are fostering a culture and community that is inclusive, so it made sense for us to have a hand in helping them.”
Eventually they talked to people in MED’s Graduate Medical Sciences, SPH, SDM, Boston Medical Center (BMC), and others, such as BU’s Office of the General Counsel.
“It was more complicated than we expected,” Monroe says in a joint Zoom interview. The two students originally hoped to post the new list through Google by Coming Out Day last October, which seems funny to them now. Getting it right was more important than any deadline, as they faced complicated questions about privacy, whether to include allies on the list, and what information they should ask each person to provide.
Major support came from the Medical Campus IT staff, who created a website with a spotlight page for LGBTQ+ campus news, search capability, and Kerberos-password access, the latter a key component in balancing privacy and usability. You can join the list with your BU Kerberos login or a BMC/BU email address. BU Medical Campus alumni and retirees with a BU email address are also welcome to join.
“Coming up with questions for the list itself was quite a challenge,” Monroe says. “We expanded the list to talk about people’s identities and the things they might be able to offer advice on.”
The main site lists each member’s name, affiliation, organization, and degree/title/specialty, as well as identifying whether they are LGBTQ+ or an ally. One click brings users to a page with more details provided by each individual member, including contact information, pronouns, sexual identity, and whether they have experience with LGBTQ+ clinical care, research, mentorship, or advocacy.
“One of the things we thought was really important was to ask: what is the utility of the list, what is it for, who will be using it?” says Gell-Levey. “We want it to be not just a resource for students, but also a network meeting place where people could find mentors, find research projects, or volunteer in certain areas.
“People applying to residencies can ask, ‘Should I be out while applying?’ ‘If you have different pronouns, how do you navigate that in residency applications and on campus?’” she says. “New faculty can come on the list and say, ‘I’m trans faculty, how do I navigate that?’ and find another trans faculty person who can help them.”
I think people are hungry to connect and eager to have a place to find people and information and community.
—Katie Toro-Ferrari, MED director of student affairs
Medical Campus community members can also use the list to build connections and network more broadly on topics from a research project to organizing a vigil or recruiting volunteers.
As of this writing, there are more than 100 names on the alphabetical list. One of the first is Karen Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus—and an ally who says the list is “a much-needed resource.”
“I signed up to be an ally because our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty need to know that the school leadership supports them and that they are welcome to discuss any issues on campus,” Antman says. “Medical and graduate schools are hard. Finding your niche as a junior faculty member is hard. We can’t succeed if all of our students, staff, and faculty don’t get the recognition they deserve because of their race, sex, or whom they love.”
The project has led to plans for a similar list on the Charles River Campus. Although COVID-19 has made much uncertain right now, the effort will be gearing up by the fall, says Chantel James, Financial Assistance assistant director and chair of the Charles River Campus LGBTQIA+ Identified Faculty & Staff Network. Those who want to be involved should email LGBTQIA-FSN-BOARD@bu.edu.
It has been difficult to gauge reaction to the OUT & Ally List among students because none have been on campus since the pandemic forced the University to institute remote teaching and learning in March, Gell-Levey says, but “we are excited to see where it goes from here.”
“I think it’s more important than ever to be building connections with people in the different BU areas,” Monroe says. “I hope this is even more important than it would be otherwise, given that we are spread out all around the country.”
This BU Today story was written by Joel Brown