By Lisa Brown

Poverty Expert Sheldon Danziger to Give 2015 Bicknell Lecture

October 20th, 2015 in Featured

Economic inequality, not government programs, cause of stagnant poverty rate

A generation ago, in a now-famous speech to Congress, President Ronald Reagan pronounced antipoverty programs an abject failure.

“The government fought a War on Poverty, and poverty won,” he said.

Critics of the War on Poverty (legislation first proposed by Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union address), including some presidential candidates, have echoed that view in recent months, as US Census Bureau figures show the poverty rate has remained relatively stagnant over the past 30 years. The latest report puts the poverty rate last year at 14.8 percent, 2.3 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession. Median household income in 2014 was reported as $53,657—statistically the same as it was in 2013.

But while some look at those numbers as signs that government safety-net programs have failed, Sheldon Danziger, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, offers a different narrative based on recent social science research. With the benefits of economic growth going to the elite, not the average worker, he says, government programs are the main reason why the poverty rate has not climbed even higher.

“The conventional wisdom is that a rising economic tide lifts all boats. But it no longer works that way,” Danziger says. “The last 40 years have been a period of very slow wage growth and rising inequality.”

Disparities in income lead to disparities in health—a topic that Danziger, one of the country’s top experts on poverty and the social safety net, will explore tomorrow when he delivers the 2015 William J. Bicknell Lecture at the School of Public Health. His talk, Poverty, Public Policy and Public Health, will be followed by a panel discussion with Charles E. Carter, chief strategy officer at the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child; Molly Baldwin, founder and CEO of Roca, Inc., a nonprofit seeking to help young people transform their lives; and pediatrician Perri Klass, a New York University professor of journalism and of pediatrics. They will discuss the question: Should the mission of public health be the eradication of poverty?

Danziger, former Henry J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and director of its National Poverty Center has written and edited a number of books on economic conditions, social programs, and poverty. He views public health as one way to improve the lives of the poor, touting Obamacare as a meaningful antipoverty program.

BU Today spoke with him recently about his views on poverty and public health:

Sheldon Danziger, a leading expert on poverty, says the United States must address growing income inequality to reduce the number of those living in poverty. Photo courtesy of Russell Sage Foundation

Sheldon Danziger, a leading expert on poverty, says the United States must address growing income inequality to reduce the number of those living in poverty. Photo courtesy of Russell Sage Foundation

BU Today: The US Census Bureau’s latest report shows little improvement for American families in the past year. Despite a falling unemployment rate, the median income is not budging. What’s wrong?

Danziger: The main problem, which has been going on for several decades, is that when the economy does improve, as it has for the past few years, the gains from economic growth have been uneven. In the past, when the economy improved, people got called back to work—there were benefits to the average worker. These days, wages don’t necessarily rise when the economy improves. In fact, people going back to work after the recession may earn less money than they did before. Many firms have not provided wage increases, and some are using technology to reduce hours and pay.

You’ve talked about income inequality worsening—that prosperity is no longer widely shared when the economy grows. Can you explain why that is?

We’re in a period of very slow wage growth. At the bottom, wages have not kept up with productivity growth, especially for workers without a college degree. Meanwhile, at the top, the inequality has become so extreme that it will take major tax reform to begin to reduce it.

At some point, incomes at the top began to explode. In 1965, the typical CEO of a major firm made 20 times what the average worker at his or her company made. That increased to 60 times in 1989—and it’s currently at 230. As just one example, consider Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. She was paid more than $100 million during her short tenure as CEO at Hewlett-Packard, including a $65 million signing bonus and $21 million in severance pay.

So we have a situation where the increased productivity of the economy has been captured by the economic elite. This was not the environment that the War on Poverty era was launched in. In other words, poverty has remained high because of the failure of the economy to benefit the average worker—not because of the failure of government programs. Because the economy and poverty programs are working in opposite directions, you end up with a roughly constant poverty rate.

If inequality is the root problem, shouldn’t we be doing more to bring up the people at the bottom?

Certainly, yes. For starters, you could raise the well-being of those at the bottom through higher wages. Workers with a high school degree or less have been left behind: their wages adjusted for inflation are lower than they were 40 years ago.

We could make a significant dent in poverty through a number of public policies—raising the minimum wage, expanding subsidies for child care, increasing the earned income tax credit, launching a subsidized jobs program. All of these steps would help to bring up the bottom and have a modest effect on reducing inequality.

One of the newer policies that certainly has helped is the dramatic increase in insurance coverage under Obamacare. We have good examples of government programs bringing up the bottom; what we don’t have are very good examples of government bringing down inequality at the top.

Would you consider Obamacare an antipoverty program?

Yes. People who were uninsured or paying for their health care now have more money for other goods and services—food, clothing, shelter. It’s less likely that they’re being forced into bankruptcy because of unpaid medical bills.

Having access to health care means people are able to work more. If we discover a disease at an early stage and do something about it, that person can stay in good health and remain productive. It’s clearly the case that there are other government programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid coverage for poor kids, that have led to long-term improvements in health outcomes.

What about health disparities between the rich and poor or minorities and whites? Can government programs fix those?

They can certainly help. Consider what happened when Medicare was passed. There were millions of uninsured elderly people who were going to get covered by Medicare, and the Johnson administration made clear that no Medicare payments would go to segregated hospitals. This led to the eventual desegregation of hospitals throughout the South. There is now research documenting that because of this, large numbers of black women gave birth in hospitals instead of at home, and black infant mortality declined.

Health disparities are tied to poverty rates. Those at the bottom have lower life expectancies, higher unemployment. And the causation goes both ways–people in poor health are less likely to work.

Even within the white population, there are growing disparities by social class. Those disparities are much greater now than they were 30 years ago. There’s a new report by the National Academy of Sciences that suggests a correlation between rising income inequality and the increasing disparities in life expectancy. For males, the estimated life expectancy for 50-year-olds born in 1930 who were in the bottom 20 percent of income was 26.6 years more compared to 31.7 years more for those in the top 20 percent. That’s a five-year difference. Today, it’s 12 and a half years between the poorest and the richest 20 percent. Rising inequality is one of the reasons.

There will always be a bottom rung at elevated health risk. But the question is, can you reduce that risk? That’s the domain of public health, and it’s important.

The 2015 William J. Bicknell Lecture in Public Health is tomorrow, Wednesday, October 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Hiebert Lounge at the School of Medicine Instructional Building, 72 East Concord St. The event is free and open to the public. The lectureship is named in honor of the late William J. Bicknell, founder and chair emeritus of the SPH international health department.

This BU Today story was written by Lisa Chedekel, She can be reached at

BU Awarded $23.4 Million NIH Grant

October 7th, 2015 in Featured, Research

For turning discoveries into treatments, diagnostics, improved health

David Center directs Boston University’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute, which received an NIH renewal grant to help investigators on both campuses conduct multidisciplinary clinical research. Photo by Cydney Scott

David Center directs Boston University’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute, which received an NIH renewal grant to help investigators on both campuses conduct multidisciplinary clinical research. Photo by Cydney Scott

BU’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI) has been awarded a $23.4 million, four-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) renewal grant to train and support scientists across both campuses in conducting cutting-edge clinical research and turning their discoveries into treatments, diagnostics, and improved public health.

CTSI is part of a national network of translational science institutes at some 60 medical research universities that have been established by the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA). NIH created the program in 2006 to speed the translation of biomedical advances into better health care. All members of the CTSA network—among them Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts—share research tools and innovations.

“By providing our researchers with resources, infrastructure, and funding, BU’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute supports innovation and discovery that may improve health, diagnosis, or treatment,” says Karen Antman, provost of the Medical Campus and dean of the School of Medicine. “We are delighted to be awarded this grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the NIH to support BU’s outstanding investigators and increase cross-fertilization between bedside and bench.”

While CTSI is based on the Medical Campus, its resources, including pilot grants funded by the award, are available to investigators across the University. “One of the great advantages we have at BU is exceptionally strong faculty in the life sciences and biomedical engineering who have the potential to collaborate with both clinical and basic science faculty in the medical school,” says Gloria Waters, BU vice president and associate provost for research. “BU CTSI, along with other initiatives we are embarking upon, provides much needed resources and infrastructure to help our faculty make connections across our two campuses. The collaborations and the infrastructure that are developed as a result of this grant will have a very real impact on our ability to facilitate translation of biomedical advances into improved care for patients.”

Under the leadership of CTSI director David Center (MED’72), associate provost for translational research, BU has received two NIH clinical translational research awards since 2008. “These were meant to be, and still are, grants that build the infrastructure of the University to help scientists do science better—and do better science,” says Center, the Gordon and Ruth Snider Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at MED and chief of pulmonary, allergy, sleep, and critical care medicine at Boston Medical Center (BMC). Center says the awards have been the foundation for a number of BU investigators—especially those in the early stages of their careers—to successfully apply for other types of federal funding.

The renewal awards also enable CTSI to provide research support for core facilities for clinical trials, biomedical informatics, pilot funding, help in navigating the regulatory system, and biostatistics, epidemiology, and research design. Center says the awards can help CTSI connect researchers with BMC patients, a large percentage of whom are underserved minorities at risk of multiple chronic diseases. The NIH considers these patients, and their health, integral to the mission of translational research.

“Translation can occur on multiple levels, not just from the bench to the bedside, but from the bedside to patients, from patients to the community—and it all flows back and forth,” says CTSI associate director David Felson (SPH’84), a MED professor of medicine and epidemiology, and section chief of the BMC clinical epidemiology research and training unit. “It also occurs from knowing something works that’s been tested in trials and actually getting it into the community where it’s given to people.”

Additionally, the award will help advance regenerative medicine at BU. Under the supervision of Darrell Kotton, a founding director of the University’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM), the award will provide for six predoctoral students and four postdocs to receive advanced training in any University laboratory—it could be pediatrics, orthopedic surgery, hematology, or any number of other medical fields, Center says—that is engaged in stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

“This training program will prepare the next generation of scientists and physician-scientists to work with stem cells to advance this new technology toward clinical application,” says Kotton, a MED professor of medicine and pathology and a BMC attending physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

Most important, says Kotton, whose lab studies cystic fibrosis, emphysema, and other pulmonary diseases, the award “will help support open-source sharing of Boston University’s expansive bank of pluripotent stem cell lines generated from patients who have the diseases that we and other BU CTSI partners across the country study.

“We hope this stem cell bank and our capacity to make new stem cell lines for national sharing will provide the tools to better understand and treat these diseases in the years ahead,” he adds. “In this way, the award stands to benefit many universities across the country that participate in our shared mission of improving human health.”

A key part of the CTSI mission is fostering collaboration across many disciplines and across both campuses, says Center, “whether those collaborations are spurred by money in the form of pilot awards or new grants or by an individual who identifies someone in any other department doing work that might be applicable to their own.”

“We’re free to give our money as an investment to anyone across the University,” Center says. “BU CTSI’s idea is for creating unencumbered money that would be multidisciplinary and cross schools and departments. It doesn’t mean money is given without review or without strings attached. But with us, if you’ve got a good translation idea—fine. We support junior and senior investigators.”

Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of the CTSI training program, which educates young physician-scientists and other junior faculty across the University in cutting-edge, multidisciplinary translational research methods. Researchers today should be “conversant and capable in thinking about a broad range of methodologies and to be able to communicate and interact in an interdisciplinary fashion,” says Felson.

One way CTSI training encourages this sort of creativity is by holding seminars where physician-scientists and other investigators from a broad range of disciplines—cardiologists, pulmonary physicians, epidemiologists, biomedical engineers, and others—share their research findings. “They’ll be sitting in their own research world—in their own little silo—and they listen to someone doing something vastly different from them,” Felson says. “They realize, this isn’t my question that I’m pursuing, but their approach has great relevance to me.

“The future is multidisciplinary—familiarity with a lot of different research methods and an open mind about how to bring in and work with collaborators,” he says.

CTSI training also focuses on the more practical aspects of succeeding as a researcher: how to write a paper, how to write a grant, how to connect with and communicate with your mentor.

For CTSI, a major part of the NIH award will be targeted at more quickly and efficiently launching and conducting clinical trials. “We are charged to grease the wheels of a very slow and cumbersome national clinical trials network,” Center says. “We aim to shorten the Institutional Review Board [IRB] process and to assist in the efficient enrollment and retention of subjects in trials and in all the steps along the way, from identification of the need for the trial to data analysis.” As part of this, CTSI supports researchers by providing free consultation services on clinical research study design; facilities, skilled nursing, and help in enrolling subjects for clinical trials; biostatistics and bioinformatics; and hands-on assistance in navigating the obstacles that come with the often cumbersome but necessary regulatory system that oversees clinical trials.

“The overall goal is to provide resources for sharing research discoveries and tools to train researchers to translate their basic discoveries into treatments and diagnostics,” Center says. “We are in constant search of ways to expedite processes involved in clinical trials. We don’t want scientists to have to do everything themselves or reinvent the translational research wheels over and over.”

Part of complying with the necessary regulations, which are intended to protect human subjects as well as investigators, means obtaining IRB approval to run clinical trials. “BU’s process is similar to other universities, but the levels of expertise in running clinical trials and navigating the regulatory systems of our clinical researchers vary widely,” Center says. “The BU CTSI aims to help inexperienced researchers get through that process as efficiently as possible.

“We give advice to researchers so they don’t make mistakes when they write the protocol,” he says. “We help them with the consent form. We make sure it’s translated into Spanish if that’s appropriate and they’re enrolling people who don’t speak English. We give them advice on how to respond to the IRB’s concerns. But we don’t manage or influence the IRB. It is an independent body, and it should be.

“What we aim to do,” Center says, “is to simplify the complexities of translational research—that is, research involving human beings—make it more efficient, and make the science better.”

This BU Today story was written by Sara Rimer.

BUMC Influenza (Flu) Vaccine Clinics Oct. 13, 15

October 6th, 2015 in Announcements, Featured

The Occupational Health Center will be offering influenza vaccine at no cost to BUMC employees. We encourage you to get the vaccine during one of the scheduled clinics to not only protect yourself, but also your colleagues and your family. For information regarding the 2015-2016 flu vaccine please refer to the Occupational Health Center’s website at If you have any questions regarding the vaccine or clinic schedule, please email

Please walk-in during the dates and times listed below that correspond with the first initial of your last name. If you are unable to come on your designated date, you may walk-in during one of the other scheduled clinics. Please note there will be clinics held on both the Charles River and Medical campuses.

Medical Campus
Location:  Medical Campus Human Resources, 801 Massachusetts Ave, Suite 400

First Initial of Last Name: A – M
Tuesday, Oct. 13
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

First Initial of Last Name: N – Z
Thursday, Oct. 15
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Please note:

  • Wear a short sleeve shirt to enable easier access to your upper arm.
  • Please bring your BU ID card.
  • Additional clinics will be held as needed.
  • MA DPH recommends that all health-care providers receive the influenza vaccine unless contraindicated.


  • Severe allergy to eggs
  • History of severe reaction to influenza vaccination
  • Moderate-to-severe illness
  • History of Guillain-Barre syndrome

GSDM Students and Faculty Volunteer at Local Book Fair

October 5th, 2015 in Featured

GSDM volunteers at the Charles C. Yancey Book Fair

GSDM volunteers at the Charles C. Yancey Book Fair

Five members of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) community—three 4-year DMD students, one two-year Advanced Standing DMD student, and a faculty member—volunteered at the 29th Annual Charles C. Yancey Book Fair on July 25 at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center on Tremont Street.

The Book Fair, which offered free books and entertainment for children, took place from noon- 2 p.m. It is named after Boston City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who is the longest serving member of the Boston City Council, having been first elected in 1983.

Councilor Yancey and his wife, Marzetta, founded the Charles C. Yancey Book Fair in 1987 and have since distributed more than 450,000 books to more than 18,000 children in the city of Boston.

While the volunteers from GSDM did not distribute books, they did serve a valuable role at the book fair. The GSDM volunteers assisted the Masonic Youth Child Identification Program (MYCHIP) in obtaining “tooth prints” from children. The MYCHIP program seeks to provide tools for law enforcement to more efficiently locate missing children.

The GSDM volunteers also set up a general dental resource table in an effort to promote positive oral health practices to the families attending the fair.

“Our students and faculty have a strong track record of lending a helping hand to the surrounding community,” said Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter. “I am very proud of the GSDM community members who volunteered to assist with the MYCHIP program at the Charles C. Yancey Book Fair.”

The GSDM volunteers were: Assal Abdossalehi DMD 16; Ana Keohane AS 16; Megan Sullivan DMD 18; Vanessa Thai DMD 16; and Clinical Instructor in the Department ofHealth Policy & Health Services Research  Dr. Mohammad Mourad.

Submitted by GSDM Communications

The Power of Scholarships

October 2nd, 2015 in Uncategorized

Gratitude, excitement and anticipation – these three words describe the 2015 BUSM Scholarship Dinner on Thursday, Sept. 24.

In a candle-lit room at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston, 18 medical students gathered together to meet – for the first time – their scholarship donors.

Dean Antman with students Adam Johnson (Class of 2017) and Karanda Bowman (Class of 2016)

Dean Antman with students Adam Johnson (Class of 2017) and Karanda Bowman (Class of 2016)

“Today is really important,” said Nick Smith, BUSM Class of 2016. “Getting to meet the face behind who’s doing this for me – it’s really special.”

To his surprise, Smith’s donor was Aram Chobanian, MD, President Emeritus, Boston University and Dean Emeritus of the School of Medicine.

“It’s terrific,” said Smith. “The weight that I’ll have in terms of debt going forward is that much less. Every little bit counts.”

Thanks to scholarships established by generous donors, every year students who otherwise could not afford a BUSM education can pursue their dream of becoming a physician.

According to Emir Morais, co-interim director of BUSM’s Student Financial Services, the cost of medical education presents a high barrier for many applicants – and a significant burden for many graduates. In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports that 79 percent of medical students have debt of $100,000 or more after medical school.

“Scholarships help relieve some of the financial burden put on these students during and after their medical education,” said Morais. “These funds support their education and their intellectual, professional and personal development. It gives them the opportunity to attend a medical school that fits their passions and a chance to choose a field they care about.”

Over dinner and dessert, the students and donors were greeted by Dean Karen Antman, MD, who introduced Karanda Bowman, Class of 2016, and Adam Johnson, Class of 2017. Both students spoke about how their scholarships were a critical component in attending medical school.

“You haven’t just given me a gift,” said Johnson. “You’ve given my family a little more hope that everything really will be alright.”

As the students parted ways with their donors, handshakes and hugs were exchanged. Pleasantries and advice about medical school filled the room. But as this writer will attest, two common, contagious sentiments elevated this event – honor and gratefulness.

“We have to give kids the opportunity to be able to go to medical school without worrying about huge debts,” said Elaine Kirshenbaum, a BU donor since 1983. “It’s an honor to be able to support them.”

View the Facebook album.

Transgender at BU

September 21st, 2015 in Uncategorized

Students find a welcome, but want a few changes

Ray arrived on the BU campus two years ago as a freshman from Texas who identified as female and lesbian. A sociology class that October changed everything.

“Some theorist had talked about how everything we think about in society is a social construct,” Ray (a pseudonym) says. “We were talking about that in direct relation to gender, and there was a moment when I felt, in my brain, like something fell apart. I could feel the fabric of my reality crumbling. It was scariest thing I’d ever felt. I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not a female.’ That thought had never crossed my mind before. It was really shocking to me as an 18-year-old. What am I supposed to do with this information?”

Ray (CAS’17) came to BU in part because it promised a more welcoming environment than that in Texas. “I had never really thought about identifying as transgender while I was growing up or at school, but I think that may have been due to lack of exposure and lack of a comfortable space to explore,” Ray says. “When I came to BU, a lot of things changed for me, perspective-wise.”

So Ray spent much of freshman year grappling with gender identity in “crisis mode,” and on-campus counseling didn’t provide an answer. “People can point you to resources,” Ray says, “but it’s your personal identification that only you can figure out internally.”

These days, Ray identifies as neither male nor female, but somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Like many people in the trans community, Ray rejects the idea of gender as purely binary, and prefers “they” as a singular pronoun, instead of he or she.

Ray found like-minded people to talk to at BU’s student Center for Gender, Sexuality & Activism and the Trans* Listening Circle hosted there: “I knew I had peers in that space that I could talk to about what I was feeling. That’s where I went to find support.”

There’s no count of transgender students at the University, and no one interviewed really wants to venture a guess. An unrelated survey on the climate around sexual misconduct taken last March and April found that about one percent of 5,875 student respondents identified as trans, gender queer, or other.

“I will say that, anecdotally, it seems the number of students who are publicly identifying as trans or nonbinary is on the rise,” says Stacy Ulrich, director of the College of Arts & Sciences Student Programs & Leadership and faculty advisor of the Trans* Listening Circle.

Ray is one of three transgender students who agreed to talk to BU Today about their experience at BU, where, they say, the University has done a good bit to support trans people, but still needs to do more.

Clearly this year is a turning point. The transition of Caitlyn Jenner created the biggest media splash, following Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, who made the cover of Time magazine in 2014 in a story touting “the social movement poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.” The White House recently hired its first openly transgender staffer. And just last night, Jeffrey Tambor won the Emmy award for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for his role as Maura Pfefferman in the acclaimed Amazon series Transparent.

But not all the news is promising. According to Time, between January and August this year, 15 trans people were murdered, most of them young women of color.

Cameron Partridge, an Episcopal chaplain at BU, came out as a transgender man 14 years ago when he was a doctoral student. He says it’s important to remember that “the Trans Day Remembrance movement started about a mile from BU, with the killing of Rita Hester in 1998.” Hester, whose killer was never found, was stabbed to death in her apartment in Allston. Many in the trans community believe that her murder was a hate crime, and a yearly vigil held in remembrance has grown into the national movement.

Suicide is also a major issue. A study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute found that 41 percent of trans people try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6 percent of the general public.

Pronouns matter

Discussion of transgender issues has been front and center on many campuses this year. Harvard recently began accepting “they” and other gender-neutral pronouns as part of the registration procedure. Women’s colleges, including Wellesley and Smith, decided after public discussion to accept applications from transgender women.

“It’s such a weird cultural moment. So many people are becoming aware that trans people happen—and we have always happened everywhere,” says Michelle Samuels (GRS’16), a transgender woman who began her transition in earnest a year ago, when she came to BU to pursue a master’s in the Creative Writing Program.

“Society is at this point—and the campus is at this point—where we are trying to get our head around it all,” says Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), BU’s dean of students. “There is a cultural shift that is happening as far as how you engage with transgender people, and how we are all respecting what that means, how we are making sure we respect the dignity and worth of that individual.”

The three BU students have not been openly threatened or harassed, and they say their lives in the BU community are defined, for better or worse, by small moments: an awkward, distressing encounter at the door of a FitRec bathroom, or a helpful faculty member going beyond the call of duty to cut through red tape.

“If my professors didn’t support me, I think the whole thing would have been much harder,” says Jamie Weinand (MED’17), who came out as a transgender man during the last school year. “They made me feel really empowered to be who I am.”

Transgender people and their supporters pay careful attention to the words they use to describe themselves and their journeys, especially names and pronouns: he, she, they.

“For a trans student, that’s who they are,” says Ulrich. “Having others respect you as a person is one of the most important things in life, and you want to feel like you’re respected by the person that’s teaching you in classroom, by your roommate, by your friends, by staff you interact with on a daily basis.”

Samuels, who was hired this month as an assistant editor and social media coordinator in the School of Public Health communications office, says SPH has been wonderful and her overall BU experience positive, including with those in her MFA program.

“I haven’t experienced any kind of classic textbook harassment or meanness or bullying,” says Samuels. “On the other hand, there are the everyday things that really grind you down. Pronouns are a big one, being misgendered by strangers, accidentally misgendered by people who know my pronouns, being called ‘sir’ at the burrito truck.”

Tangling up gender and sexuality

It’s not uncommon for gender and sexuality to get tangled up as young people grapple with their identity. All three students say they’d come out as gay or lesbian to family members and others before they fully understood that what they were struggling with was more about gender than sexuality. Samuels says her feelings of femininity were a source of confusion, given that she was—and is—attracted mainly to women. At first, those feelings seemed to fit certain stereotypes.

So Samuels first came out as a gay man. “Erroneously!” she says, with a big laugh.

Although people increasingly address gender identity in high school and even before, many confront the issue during their college years. “People are solidifying who they are,” says Partridge. “They have a little freedom, space from their home context, so it’s a time of exploration. That’s just true in general.”

Samuels avoided the issue during her relatively happy undergraduate years at Hampshire College. “One of things that kind of scared me when trying to figure this out was that I haven’t known for my entire life,” she says. “I’ve known something was off my entire life, but I think most people feel kind of off most of their lives. I started to bump up against gender role stuff in middle school. I started thinking a lot about the idea of being female-bodied in high school. It’s a thing that has gradually become clearer. But the fact that I didn’t say at age five, ‘I’m a girl,’ doesn’t mean I’m not trans. People come to it differently.”

When she came to BU for grad school, Samuels made a pact with herself to take advantage of the Boston area’s many medical and counseling resources and start working it out. “The more attention I gave to it, the more the excuses and doubts started to look flimsier and flimsier, and the need to transition continued to feel very pressing,” she says.

Talking with a social worker at Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine started to help with her internal conflict, known as gender dysphoria, and she now seeing a therapist at BU’s Danielsen Institute.

“I started at Fenway Health with hormone replacement therapy back in the middle of March,” she says. “I joined a support group in Cambridge of student-age and grad-student-age people. It’s really proven the great place to be doing it that I expected Boston to be, and BU’s doing a pretty good job too.”

In summer 2014, before Weinand came out as trans, one of his School of Medicine professors asked him and another student for help writing a new piece of curriculum for the first-year Introduction to Clinical Medicine course. The professor wanted to offer students some instruction in patient interviewing that took into account gender identity.

“And I thought, wow, you have the initiative to want to include this in your class? That’s wonderful,” Weinand says.

The module they wrote debuted this past spring in the class, taught by Nanette Harvey, a MED assistant professor, and has since became part of the resource library for the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. Weinand is also the first author on a study published in the Journal of Clinical & Translational Endocrinology that concluded hormone therapy in transgender adults is safe with supervision.

Weinand says faculty and administrators helped make his campus experience after coming out a positive one, especially Karen Symes, MED assistant dean of student affairs, and Douglas Hughes, associate dean of academic affairs. Single-stall, gender-assigned bathrooms on the Medical Campus became gender neutral. Gender-identity and pronoun-selection options were added to the online admissions form. Weinand’s chosen name appeared on paperwork before it was in the directory.

“The Medical Campus has been awesome,” says the upbeat Weinand.

BU can be proud, but more can be done

Some BU policies directly support trans people, and as Ulrich says, “BU should be proud of that.” For example, University health insurance covers hormone therapy and some other aspects of a transition, and BU has a gender neutral housing option, created in part to ensure that LGBT students feel safe in their living situation, although the policy is not specifically crafted for them.

Trans students seeking counseling can find support at Behavioral Medicine, as Samuels did. And Partridge says he is available to anyone who wants to talk informally. He can be reached through Marsh Chapel.

But Ulrich and others believe more can be done to make the University a welcoming place for trans students. This summer, she and a pair of students associated with the Trans* Listening Circle spoke on transgender issues to a meeting of the University administration’s Campus Activities Team—a group whose mission is to develop an environment conducive to learning and personal development for all students.

“The big takeaway here was the extreme deficit in knowledge and programming around LGBT issues at BU,” team chair Raul Fernandez (COM’00), associate director of Student Activities, says. “We need to do more, and we need expert staff members that are specifically assigned to work with this population, and to educate the rest of us on related issues.”

Until now, trans students have had to rely on individual faculty and administration members to step up, and that will change, says Elmore.

“What we’re trying to do with the working group is look at ways that those things can happen systematically,” he says. “This is about a cultural shift in thinking…so it can happen with students saying, ‘Here’s who I am, here’s what I’m about, and this is why I may need a set of circumstances that may not happen very often.’” That will probably include more and better-marked gender-neutral bathrooms and changes in policies or operations concerning how students are identified in college systems, he says.

“I think we were doing a lot of this before some of the national attention that this summer has brought to it,” Elmore says. “The great thing about this summer is that it’s gotten us all thinking a lot about it, and hopefully that does help us to move a bit faster.”

Practical challenges

Students hope that administrative attention will help solve some of the day-to-day problems and bureaucratic glitches that trans students can still face. Ray found it difficult to negotiate a new gender-neutral housing arrangement after a planned roommate didn’t return to school. Samuels, who graduates in January, spent weeks trying to make sure her correct name would appear on her diploma, and ended up prodding the Registrar’s office via email for a quick change.

“They wrote back pretty quickly saying, ‘We do not currently have a policy,’” she says. “They said, ‘We’re working on developing one. But in the meantime, we’re changing names and gender on a one-by-one basis and we’ll put that it right in.’ And they did.”

Samuels is still trying to get a new ID and picture, which also appears in the directory accessible to faculty. In the outdated picture now in use, she has a beard, she says, and seeing it is both strange and painful.

Weinand complains about the lack of a gender neutral restroom in FitRec. “Basically you’re telling me that transgender people who don’t feel comfortable in the assigned gender restrooms can’t work out or have to go work out and feel uncomfortable,” he says. “I’ve certainly done the thing where I use the outside locker and don’t go into the single-sex bathroom, and I just hold it.”

He’s had doors slammed in his face, he says, and has heard more than one nasty comment when he was still using the women’s restroom. He takes a deep breath, his otherwise cheerful demeanor gone for a moment.

“If you are wondering, if you don’t know the gender of someone or what bathroom they’re supposed to use, don’t worry about it, it’s not your issue,” Weinand advises, then smiles again. “I’ve also had people who did the opposite, who found me as a fairly masculine-presenting persona and still held the door for me when I was entering the women’s restroom…whether that person knew it or not, it was a huge ally move.”

The heart of the college experience is the classroom, and the students say that most, but not all, professors are quick to accommodate new names and pronouns.

“It’s hard for students to be empowered by what they’re learning when they’re hampered by not being able to be who they are in the classroom,” says Partridge, who navigated the issue as a grad student. “When they can be who they are, the classroom becomes this launching pad, not in a utilitarian career sense, but in a full-human-being sense.”

Support is welcome, probing questions less so, say Partridge and the trans students. Fellow students who find out that a classmate is trans should ask about pronouns, but not about their old name or what their family thinks. Particularly troubling to trans people are invasive questions about medical transitioning. None of your business, they say.

“For the first time, people are sort of aware that people transition, that people are trans,” says Samuels, “and that means there are a lot of people who react really horribly, and a lot of people who have every good intention don’t know how to go about it, and there are people who go and educate themselves, which is wonderful, and people who expect trans people to educate them—which is exhausting, but better than nothing.”

For many trans people, their story is still in progress, and they may be feeling vulnerable about it, Partridge says. Let them decide what parts of their story to share and with whom. “I think a good rule of thumb is, people’s stories are theirs to tell,” he says.

“Here’s the hard part,” says Elmore. “We can put a lot of systems in place, but there’s still going to be the interaction that students are going to have with each other—in offices, in workplaces, in residences, in classrooms—where you want this higher order thinking about the dignity and worth of a human being. And that’s where it will be awkward, and that’s where it may butt up against some old views that people have had for so long, or people who have been indifferent or haven’t even thought about this issue.”

This BU Today article was written by Joel Brown.

New GSDM Students Gather for 2015 Professional Ceremony

September 15th, 2015 in Featured, Uncategorized

Students seated during the 2015 Professional Ceremony

Students seated during the 2015 Professional Ceremony

Four-year DMD 19 and two-year AS DMD 17 students from Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) marked the end of their first week of orientation on Friday, July 31, at one of the most significant events in the educational careers of our dental students, the annual Professional Ceremony.

The students marched into the ceremony grounds, the Talbot Green, and took their seats under a large white tent. Hundreds of friends and family members looked on and cheered as the DMD 19 and AS 17 students participated in the 2015 Professional Ceremony.

Assistant Dean of Students Dr. Joseph Calabrese welcomed the crowd under the packed tent.

Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter as well as Boston University Medical Campus Provost and Boston University School of Medicine Dean Dr. Karen Antman delivered the opening remarks, while student anxiously anticipated receiving their BU pins.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Professor in General Dentistry Dr. Carl McManama. Dr. McManama began his now 39 year dental career at GSDM as a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Operative Dentistry in 1976.  He was later promoted to Clinical Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. He Chaired the Department of Operative Dentistry from 1986 to 1995.

After Dr. McManama’s speech, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Associate Professor in  Health Policy & Health Services Research Catherine Sarkis took to the podium to present the DMD Class of 2019 and AS Class of 2017 to Dean Hutter.

Five faculty members then stood on the stage to present the pins to the DMD 19 and AS 17 students. The faculty members were: Dr. Calabrese; Dr. Sarkis; Associate Professor in the Department of General Dentistry Dr. Stephen Dulong; Professor in the Department of Periodontology, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Professor in the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology Dr. Cataldo Leone; and Clinical Professor in the Department of General Dentistry and Faculty Liaison for the Advanced Standing Program Dr. Janet Peters.

Each DMD 19 and AS 17 student shook hands with Dean Hutter and Provost Antman before exiting the stage. When each new student had received their pin, the Professional Oath was read.

One paragraph of the Professional Oath reads: “I will conduct myself with the highest ethical and professional behavior in the classroom, the clinic, and in all areas of my life. I will promote the integrity of the profession with honest and respectful relations with other health professionals. I will strive to advance my profession by seeking new knowledge and by reexamining the ideas and practices of the past.”

After Dean Hutter delivered his closing remarks, the students and attendees stayed for a reception under the tent for a reception on the Talbot Green.

“The Professional Ceremony is one of the most important moments in these students’ dental  educations here at GSDM,” said Dean Hutter. “I know that each of the students who received pins today will go on to make me, and everyone else at GSDM, very proud over the next four years.”

Photos from the Professional Ceremony can be found on Facebook and Flickr.

Submitted by GSDM Communications.

Mental Health Clinic for Students Opens on Medical Campus

September 10th, 2015 in Announcements, Featured

Twice-a-week Behavioral Medicine services

Some years ago, a School of Public Health survey reported that half of Medical Campus students had sought mental health care of some sort. That doesn’t surprise Kate Goodmon Nudel.

“Graduate students are under immense pressure and stress in school,” says Nudel (MED’16), “but also as adults. Many of us are married or have children or are planning to do that soon, while we are in school.” But until now, Medical Campus students needing to see Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine staff had to make their way to the Charles River Campus (CRC). Last week, Behavioral Medicine opened a satellite clinic on the Medical Campus exclusively for students, to run twice a week: Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Wednesdays, from 9 to 5. Two clinicians will staff the two offices and waiting room.

The clinic is on the eighth floor of the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center at 85 East Newton St., which is named for BU grad Fuller (MED 1897), the first black psychiatrist in the United States, who taught at BU and retired as a professor emeritus. The state-owned site was chosen with special care. While close to all the Medical Campus schools, it provides privacy from other BU student and clinical services, so “students won’t have to worry about bumping into a staff or faculty member from their program,” says Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine.

Besides SPH, the Medical Campus houses the School of Medicine and the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. Students there who have wanted to use the CRC Behavioral Medicine services couldn’t always manage it “because of long days and nights in the hospital and the additional time getting back and forth to the CRC,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus.

“This is an effort we have been pushing for many years, and we are delighted to see it come to fruition,” adds Linda Hyman, associate provost for MED’s Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.

Landa says that the clinic will provide “evaluation and brief treatment for students,” similar to what their counterparts receive on the CRC. “When longer-term treatment is indicated, we work with the student to provide a referral to a provider in the community, based on their insurance.”

“I am thrilled that all of our hard work has been recognized and our voices heard,” says Nudel. She was on the board of the Graduate and Professional Leadership Council, a student liaison group with the University’s administration, which formed a committee in spring 2014 to advocate for the clinic. The committee initially wanted a general health clinic; when that proved too ambitious, the members surveyed Medical Campus students for their priorities.

With more than 400 respondents, “we found students wanted a behavioral health clinic” most, says Nudel. Angela Jackson, MED associate dean of student affairs, says the interest at her school arises from “the stress and demands of medical school—long hours, heavy study schedule, high-stakes exams, not to mention seeing tragedy, death, and suffering on a daily basis.”

Jackson adds that “having access to care on site will make an enormous difference to the students and provide another accessible option for mental health care.…I suspect the interest will be huge, and very quickly we will need to expand the clinic’s hours.”

Indeed, Nudel says, the student group’s health survey found that 65 percent of respondents said they’d avail themselves of on-campus mental health services, leading her to predict that the new clinic “will be pretty busy.”

This BU Today story was written by Rich Barlow

Peregrine Falcons Find a Home at the Medical Campus

August 18th, 2015 in Uncategorized

A family of peregrine falcons have made a nest on a window ledge atop the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Building. Photos by Anita DeStefano, PhD, professor of Biostatistics and associate director of the BUMC Genome Science Institute.

A family of peregrine falcons have made a nest on a window ledge atop the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Building. Photos by Anita DeStefano, PhD, professor of Biostatistics and associate director of the BUMC Genome Science Institute.

High above Talbot Green a pair of watchful eyes scopes the concrete canyon below looking for its next prey. This isn’t a scene from Mission Impossible. It’s more like a National Geographic documentary.

Perched on a window ledge atop the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Building, two peregrine falcons have decided to make the BU Medical Campus their home.

COM Falcon 2

“It’s simply fascinating that such beautiful wildlife can exist in this urban area,” said Anita DeStefano, PhD, professor of Biostatistics and associate director of the BUMC Genome Science Institute.

DeStefano noticed the male and female falcons in late spring and began taking pictures of the birds from the rooftop of the medical campus parking garage. In early summer, she observed two falcon chicks in addition to the adults. After reading a recent article on BU Today about another pair of falcons on the Charles River campus, DeStefano contacted Ursula and Dave Goodine, certified volunteer observers for Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

That evening, DeStefano met with the Goodines to point out the nest site and to observe the adults with one of their fledglings.

According to Ursula Goodine, peregrine falcons are the fastest flying birds in the world – reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour during a dive. They feed on pigeons and other small birds.

In 1964 nesting pairs of Peregrines were extinct in the eastern United States, but over time, conservation success was responsible for changing them from “endangered” to “protected” status. There are now more than 30 nesting pairs in Massachusetts.

Contrary to popular belief, peregrine falcons do not build a nest. They lay their eggs on cliffs.

“As the falcon population increased, some birds looked for other territories and began using tall buildings instead of the natural landscape of cliffs and quarry ledges to raise their young,” said Goodine. “This just reveals how adaptable peregrines have become in order to perpetuate their species.”

In an effort to help facilitate a safer environment for the birds, experts from the MassWildlife Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program have set up simple wooden “nest-boxes” lined with gravel in several locations throughout the city.

The Goodines now are working on a plan to have one installed on the BU Medical Campus this fall to give the birds time to acclimate to its presence. They hope the pair of falcons will use it next spring.

“Reintroduction programs have helped Peregrines make an amazing recovery,” said Goodine. “While city living poses all kinds of dangers to these birds, they are resilient and their population has rebounded quite well.”


Grant Preparation Workshops Begin Sept. 17

August 17th, 2015 in Uncategorized

BU Medical Campus Investigators, graduate students and faculty members are invited to a grant preparation workshop on Thursday, Sept. 17 to learn more about the process of submitting individual research grants (R01) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This workshop,  which will be held on the BU Medical Campus, will include presentation by Sarah Yeboah of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Renna Lilly of the Office of Proposal Development and will cover the necessary steps to submit a NIH proposal through Boston University’s Office of Sponsored Programs. Dr. Carter Cornwall will discuss the NIH study section review and a general structure to follow when writing your grant.

Grant Preparation Workshop – Administrative Presentation

  • Thursday, Sept. 17
  • 2-4 p.m.
  • BUSM Housman Building, R-115

The second part of this series includes a small group session, where investigators will present drafts of their actual grant applications for feedback from peers and faculty who have successfully been awarded grants and served on NIH study sections. This session will be especially helpful to those who plan to submit NIH grants for the February/March submission cycle.

Grant Preparation Workshop -Grant Critiques

  • Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 9 and 10
  • Location and time to be determined

Interested investigators, graduate students and faculty members are invited to attend the Sept. 17 session. For a more thorough critique of your grant in December, you must attend this first session. You are not obligated to participate in the critique if you attend the administrative portion.

If you have any questions, please contact Renna Lilly, Office of Proposal Development, at