LGBTQ+ Curriculum Gap Leads to New Training Program for Jefferson Faculty and Staff

Transdisciplinary research team creates program for Sexual and Gender Minority Education and Training.
Group photo of Dr. Audrey Zapletal, Dr. Karla A. Bell, and Dr. Tracey Vause Earland
Drs. Audrey Zapletal, Karla A. Bell and Tracey Vause Earland have worked together to create the new training program.

Several years ago, a few occupational therapy students came to Dr. Audrey Zapletal to voice their concerns about a gap in the curriculum addressing ways to better work with the LGBTQ+ community.

“They were right,” acknowledges Dr. Zapletal, director of the MS in occupational therapy program and assistant professor on the East Falls Campus.

The OT simulation curriculum provided experiences for students to work with standardized patients from different backgrounds (ethnicity, race, age) and body types, but not specifically gender identity.

That candid feedback inspired her and colleagues to develop a standardized patient experience that included members of the trans community within the simulation curriculum.

While a move forward for OT students, Dr. Zapletal felt more could be done—not just for her program but for all of Jefferson. She soon partnered with Dr. Karla A. Bell, associate professor of physical therapy; Dr. Susan Toth-Cohen, director of the post-professional occupational therapy doctorate program; and Dr. Tracey Vause Earland, associate professor of occupational therapy.

Together, the transdisciplinary team created the pioneering Faculty/Staff/Clinician Development Program for Sexual and Gender Minority Education and Training (SG-MET for short).

Dr. Audrey Zapletal
Candid feedback from OT students provided the building blocks to start SG-MET, Dr. Audrey Zapletal says.

“This is a program that doesn’t exist at other universities,” says Dr. Bell, an expert in sexual and gender minority health and healthcare disparities and cultural humility. “There are other educational workshops but nothing this comprehensive as an interdisciplinary/interprofessional development opportunity.”

The team developed SG-MET from educational pedagogy and best practices around cultural humility, cultural competency and disparity literature for LGBTQ+ communities, Dr. Bells explains.

“We’re looking at professional behaviors that contribute to these disparities and how we need to change,” she says. “We know students maximize their success in academic achievements when they feel like they belong. They’re not as successful when they don’t. In fact, LGBTQ+ students have a higher likelihood of dropping out of college and decreasing aspirational goals because of societal stigma and resultant inequities and discrimination. Additionally, the same holds true for LGBTQ+ employee success and engagement and patient engagement in care.”

Dr. Karla Bell
“This is a program that doesn’t exist at other universities,” says Dr. Karla A. Bell, an expert in sexual and gender minority health and healthcare disparities and cultural humility.

SG-MET began in spring 2019 with two workshops in partnership with the Mazzoni Center. Later that year, the team rolled out a pilot program and then expanded its scope in 2020, opening to all faculty regardless of their discipline.

Over a series of monthly structured learning sessions—highlighted by facilitated group discussions and community guest speakers—participants work to:

  • Establish a foundational understanding of respectful terminology to optimize trust and respect when conversing with and about individuals within the sexual and gender minority populations.
  • Discover how hidden bias and personal culture can impact teaching.
  • Model how theories of cultural competence and humility inclusive of sexual and gender minorities integrate with faculty and staff roles in academia and health profession accreditation standards as well as clinician roles.
  • Establish foundational sexual and gender minority content in health pertinent for faculty to include into curricula, educate and train on inclusive practices and identify common population-specific needs.

Change Through Knowledge
Fashion merchandising and management assistant professor Juliana Guglielmi knew she couldn’t pass up on the program when she first heard about it last fall.

“I’ve gained so much from this experience,” Guglielmi shares. “The modules developed are impactful, the speakers are relevant, and all the content calls for a level of introspection and deep thought that everyone—regardless of their specialty—can benefit from.”

I’ve enhanced my understanding of a community and increased my confidence in how to create and provide brave and safe spaces in my classroom.
–Juliana Guglielmi, fashion merchandising and management assistant professor

As one of 33 faculty members and clinicians currently enrolled in the group training program, she says she has gained tangible and real-world knowledge of the inequities existing among sexual and gender minorities.

“I’ve enhanced my understanding of a community and increased my confidence in how to create and provide brave and safe spaces in my classroom. Ultimately, I have become a better ally to the community as a whole,” says Guglielmi, urging other faculty to sign up. “This program will open your eyes to inherent biases and draw attention to a community of people who may be our colleagues, peers and, of course, students who have been historically oppressed, stigmatized, under-represented and under-recognized.”

Dr. Tracey Vause Earland
Dr. Tracey Vause Earland helped develop the group training program that's open to all faculty members.

Irene Jackson, director of clinical practice for the new MS in speech-language pathology program, joined SG-MET to enhance her knowledge and learn strategies to make sure her program created an inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff from the start.

“I wanted to find a way to project cultural humility as a standard for students entering our health professions,” she says. “Our students will be working directly with diverse colleagues and patients throughout their time at Jefferson and as practicing clinicians.”

SG-MET leaders have created a comfortable environment to ask questions and learn and practice as a team, Jackson says. Plus, the combination of large group sessions and small group chats allows time to process the content and talk through the application with colleagues.

The program makes you more empathetic and shows how making small changes can make a huge impact for others.
–Irene Jackson, director of clinical practice for the MS in speech-language pathology program

“One of my favorite realizations has been that it’s OK to be uncomfortable because that’s where growth and change happen,” Jackson says. “You get to ask the awkward questions and roleplay how you would handle real-life challenging situations in clinical and academic settings all without judgment so we can learn and improve. Also, seeing the concrete data and hearing the stories and lived experiences directly from the community has been so impactful.

“Once you have all this knowledge, it changes you as a person,” she continues. “It makes you more empathetic and shows how making small changes can make a huge impact for others.”

A Safe Space
Dr. Zapletal says she sees these “a-ha moments” all the time during the program, which is supported by Jefferson’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. They often come in the way of simple, but important, efforts. For example, she recommends faculty display an LGBTQ+ flag in their office or wear an LGBTQ+ pin.

Another easy way to be inclusive starts on the first day of class, Dr. Bell says. She introduces herself with her pronouns to model and then asks all her students to write down their preferred names and pronouns.

“I don’t make any assumptions with the roster I have in front of me,” Dr. Bell says. “They may not have legally changed their name yet. I don’t want to cause trauma by saying that name, referred to as deadnaming.”

Dr. Audrey Zapletal suggests faculty members display an LGBTQ+ flag in their offices as a simple, yet effective, way to connect with students.

Going forward, the team wants to grow enrollment for SG-MET—and they feel poised to do so after the first two successful years.

“You have people from fashion, architecture and business coming together with health professionals on the academic and clinical sides in an intimate setting to talk about the same issues and concerns,” Dr. Zapletal says. “It’s a safe space to share perspectives, resources, ideas and Jefferson policies. That’s so powerful. The team’s biggest goal is to impact LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and we truly believe this models Jefferson’s values: putting people first, being bold and thinking differently, and doing the right thing.”

Faculty members who want more info or would like to sign up for the fall 2021 SG-MET program can email Dr. Karla A. Bell or Dr. Audrey Zapletal

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