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Commissioner Spotlight

Bonnie Benson-Palmgren, PhD

Preferred Pronouns: she, her, hers

What is your position at the University?

Psychologist/Diversity Coordinator at Student Counseling Center

What is your role on the Commission?

I represent the Student Counseling Center on the Commission. I am a member of the Transgender and Non-binary Identities committee.

Discuss some of your recent accomplishments and/or areas of study relating to the LGBTQ+ community.

My advocacy for LGBTQ students at UT typically happens behind the scenes through individual and group counseling. I am a generalist, meaning I meet with students of all identities and presenting concerns. I also specialize in working with transgender and non-binary students. For those interested in gender transition, I view social transition resources as important as well as medical transition resources, and I work to educate clients about the range of options available to them. I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Rebecca Morgan in the Student Health Center who works with students seeking masculinizing and feminizing hormones. For students needing a letter of referral for medical transition in the community, I am available to provide those.

As Diversity Coordinator, I also invite speakers for the psychology intern Multicultural Seminar that meets throughout the year. I specifically include speakers whose research or practice areas include LGBTQ people. I also provide training to interns and practicum students on affirmative counseling practice with trans and non-binary students.

In all of my work I try to recognize how my own privileged and oppressed identities influence my thinking and actions, particularly around social justice. I strive to view the needs of the LGBTQ community through an intersectional lens. I value looking for ways to address systemic and institutional bias in addition to making changes that would make existing structures/processes more inclusive of LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty.

Reverse chronological order:

* Revived LGBTQ group counseling at SCC – Facilitated LGBTQ Group in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 with a psychology intern. Plan to continue offering this group next year.

* Provide individual counseling to LGBTQ students and help coordinate care with Dr. Rebecca Morgan at the Student Health Center for those seeking medical transition (hormones).

* Awarded Honorary Ambassador degree in May 2017 by UT Pride Ambassadors at Lavender Graduation.

* Represented SCC at community support event “Gathering for Support, Healing, and Peace,” June 2016, following June 12 nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL.

* Represented SCC at community support event “Multicultural Student Center Reflection and Support,” July 2016, following deaths of African-American men Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge), Philando Castile (Minneapolis) by police shooting.

* Secretary for the American Psychological Association, Division 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) Section for LGBT Issues.

* Member of UT Student Life Diversity Committee.

* Annually provide training on counseling with trans and non-binary students for psychology interns and counseling psychology practicum students.

* Presented pre-conference workshops at the American College Health Association annual meetings in 2015 and 2016 regarding my work at University of Wisconsin-Madison for trans health. “Holistic Trans health care in a university setting: An interdisciplinary collaborative model at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” Collaborated with interdisciplinary team to establish transgender health care model based on providing mental health care, medical care, cross-campus experiences to transgender identified students who socially/medically transitioned while in college.

* Presented webinar sponsored by the LGBTQ+ Health Coalition of the American College Health Association. “The gender affirming therapist: What you need to know about counseling, gender transition, and campus collaboration to meet the needs of trans college students.”

In what ways do you see the Commission impacting the University?

The Commission is unique among universities where I have worked, in that it provides a direct line of communication between the Chancellor and representatives of the LGBTQ campus community. If used effectively, it could be an amazing opportunity to carry the voice of the students to the chancellor with the leverage of faculty and staff. It could also help us recruit and retain high caliber students, staff, and faculty who expect a flagship university such as ours to host a culture of pride and non-discrimination for everyone. I feel optimistic that our new chancellor will utilize the Commission’s proposed goals and priorities to move the campus forward re: social justice and anti-bias for the LGBTQ community.

What would you like to see in the future at UT for LGBTQ+ people?

I believe that consistent and enduring institutional support for LGBTQ people is foundational to achieving other goals such as consistent and meaningful response to bias incidents, establishment of a professionally staffed Pride Center, all-gender restrooms, awareness and appropriate use of personal pronouns, a campus-wide preferred name system, and non-discrimination policies for employees.

I would also like the offices that work with underserved and underrepresented students to collaborate with one another, including a Pride Center – it is important to recognize that LGBTQ people are also people of color, international students, people with disabilities, first-generation students, veterans and military personnel, etc. When existing LGBTQ communities do not reflect this diversity of identities, then folks do not feel safe to express the entirety of their true selves.

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