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Advancing Health, Well-Being, and Inclusion Among Sexual and Gender Minorities

Caroline Voyles, MPH

March 15, 2021

Caroline Voyles, MPH, is a PhD Candidate in the department of Community Health and Prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) and a Field Researcher at the Urban Sexuality Lab hosted by the department of Sociology at Drexel University.

Before starting her new role at the Urban Sexuality Lab, she was the director of Student Placement and Partnership Development in the DSPH Center for Public Health Practice, where she helped students secure meaningful practice opportunities and introduced the popular Public Health Case Competition at DSPH.

Prior to pursing a doctoral degree, Voyles completed her MPH at DSPH as well. The doctoral and master’s programs each provide quality faculty mentorship and research opportunities that she has appreciated.

“To have scholars who are experts in my chosen field is invaluable, and the guidance I have received about career development has been tailored to my interests and skills,” she said. “The PhD curriculum in particular has been engaging and challenging in ways that will help me advance as a leader in the field of sexual and gender minority health research.”

Voyles’ professional and academic interests are centered around health, well-being, and inclusion among sexual and gender minorities (SGM) and LGBTQ+ youth. She was a competitive athlete for most of her life and played two sports at the intercollegiate level. From lived experiences as a queer athlete, she saw there was much work to be done to ensure the safety and well-being of this population.

“I was impacted by my own and others' experiences of inclusion and belonging (or lack thereof) and am disheartened that despite advances in SGM inclusion in our broader society, athletic spaces remain relatively unwelcoming for some SGM subpopulations,” Voyles said.

Highlights from Voyles' career in academia so far include receiving funding for her doctoral dissertation, serving as Chair of the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) LGBTQ+ Health Student Caucus, and successfully completing her master’s project.

In 2020, Voyles received National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) funding for her dissertation, which focuses on social inclusion and outness among sexual minority athletes in organizations focused on campus recreation and athletics. The grant enables her to conduct qualitative interviews with 30 sexual minority college students who played high school sports to assess decisions related to participation and identity disclosure within sports spaces. This will complement her proposed quantitative analyses that will examine disparities in sports and physical activity participation over time. “My hope is that my work will inform the development of truly inclusive sporting environments,” she said.

As APHA LGBTQ+ Health Caucus Student Chair, Voyles continued the Caucus mentorship program virtually. This program connects LGBTQ+ students and researchers. “This became a great need during a very unusual and disconnected 2020,” she said. She now serves as the Past Student Chair, where she oversees overall engagement of students in the Caucus to continue to provide valuable resources and information to people seeking to advance in this field.

For her master's project (Dornsife's Integrated Learning Experience), Voyles created a portfolio analysis of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for SGM health, where she found that only seven of the almost 80,000 grants awarded in a particular year were new projects devoted to the study of sexual minority health outside the context of HIV. “This work, in addition to others' in the field, spurred the NIH to push forward in advancing strategies to advance their research portfolio for these populations,” she said.

In the future, Voyles hopes to remain in academia by obtaining a faculty role or to become a research scientist in an SGM-focused agency or institute.

Learn more about Voyles' work on PubMed and be sure to read a recent piece she wrote with Randall Sell, ScD, professor of community health and prevention at DSPH, for the Health and Human Rights Journal titled, "A Time for Optimism? Biden’s LGBTQ Support Provides Hope, but Highlights Persistent Social Exclusion."

Learn more about research and learning opportunities available with Drexel Dornsife’s PhD in Community Health and Prevention.