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Student Volunteer Relationship with LGBTQA Center Helps Develop Identity Savvy Clinicians

January 19, 2016

Since 2013, the Couple and Family Therapy Department has built a relationship with the LGBTQA Student Center at Drexel – from providing student volunteers to developing more understanding clinician advocates. There to oversee the blossoming partnership, enhancing it along the way, was Christian Jordal, PhD, associate director of the Master in Family Therapy Program.

Jordal was a member of the faculty, staff and alumni committee that brought the LGBTQA to life two years ago. “We were tasked with increasing visibility and support for LGBTQA identifying students. In the time we’ve been at it, the department assisted in the creation of the first LGBTQA Student Center at Drexel, which is on main campus,” said Jordal.

His role in the committee aligned naturally with his academic, research and clinical interests all of which meld in the area of LGBTQ identification and relationships. “Being involved in the committee allowed me to further my work in a subject I was interested in, as well as serve an important part of the Drexel community.”

Once the Center was established, Jordal began to see it as a valuable learning opportunity for students in the Master in Family Therapy Program – a program with cultural competency and social justice at the core of its mission. “We want to graduate students who understand how to assess and work with issues of identity, however they are defined; who take advocacy beyond the therapy room to promote justice within the larger society; and who recognize that none of us is perfect,” said Jordal. “Our graduates are mindful of who they are as clinicians and how that informs their work.”

So how does the program support the development of such future clinicians? In order to graduate, students must complete a social justice experience where they serve for approximately 40 hours over the course of two years, doing something to immerse themselves in a community that may be unfamiliar to them. Jordal said, “Ultimately, it’s a non-clinical experience, but our goals is to increase their awareness of others.”

Jordal established a student volunteer relationship with the LGBTQA Student Center, which allows students to accrue those hours at this location, building their experience level and familiarity with the resources available to the community. They are provided with training on how to be an ally and work with LGBTQ students each term, and they hold office hours and interact with the faculty, staff and students utilizing the center.

The student volunteers are benefitting from the experience as much as the Drexel LGBTQA community has benefitted from the Center’s presence on campus. “One of the steps to become culturally competent and socially just as a clinician is to recognize that we as clinicians must develop our own knowledge and understanding rather than burdening our clients with educating us on how they identify,” said Jordal.  “So many of our students are aware of what’s going on in U.S. culture around LGBTQ issues, and they’re curious about that, but they may not necessarily have a lot of knowledge of what it might mean to identify within those communities, nor the discrimination or oppression that those individuals oftentimes experience. It’s something they need to be aware of to develop the base knowledge to best work with LGBTQA clients.”

Jordal believes Drexel as a whole is devoted to increasing connections to others, whether it’s in the community in which we are situated or internationally, he recognizes a broader scope as a priority of the University. But he advises that diversity is a two way street.  “On one level this is about our students building knowledge and giving back, and on the other level continuing to support projects such as the Center that increase the visibility of the diversity that exists within Drexel and increase awareness outside of Drexel that we are a University which promotes inclusion and diversity.”