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Commissioner Spotlight

Joanne Patterson

Preferred Pronouns: she, her, hers



What is your position at the University?

I am a Ph.D. student in Health Behavior/Health Education in the Department of Public Health. I also serve as a Graduate Research Assistant for my department, working with Dr. Jennifer Jabson. My primary role is as research coordinator for Project OM, a feasibility study of an online mindfulness-based stress reduction (OMBSR) program for lesbians in rural East Tennessee. During fall 2016, I was instructor of record for PH201: Introduction to Public Health; now, during Spring 2017, I am still (happily) providing mentoring and support to students who took my course!

What is your role on the Commission?

I currently serve as a member of the Equity and Diversity Committee.

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

All of my research at the University of Tennessee is directed toward forwarding our understanding of LGBTQ health disparities. Since beginning doctoral training, I have participated in a number of research projects including coordinating observational studies and risk-reduction interventions with sexual minority (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual; LGB) women and successfully managing and analyzing pre-existing, large-scale, health surveillance data sources including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and Health Information National Trends Survey. These training and professional activities were conducted over multiple projects to investigate the unique associations between sexual orientation and chronic disease, health care access and utilization, and health information seeking behaviors among sexual minority groups, including cancer survivors.

I recently published my first, first-authored paper, “Measuring sexual and gender minority populations in health surveillance.” LGBT Health (in press). I am also concluding a mixed-methods study of Appalachian healthcare providers’ attitudes toward sexual and gender minority (SGM) patients, knowledge of SGM patient issues, and SGM-specific and cross-cultural competence; a project for which I received SARIF funding from the University of Tennessee (Read more about summer SARIF Graduate Research Assistantships). Finally, in October 2016 I was awarded the Grant W. Farmer Memorial Scholarship for students in public health research and practice – an honor that recognizes both the research and practice contributions of students receiving the award and the impact of mentorship from more seasoned LGBTQ scholars and practitioners. I am thankful to have Dr. Jennifer Jabson as my mentor at the University of Tennessee; her commitment to my scholarly development is reflected in my accomplishments to date as a second-year doctoral student.

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

The Commission for LGBT people is an essential voice for working with the University of Tennessee’s administration to increase protections for and improve the experiences of LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty at UTK. Especially in light of the legislative defunding of the Office for Diversity and Equity, the Commission serves as a resource for policy and advocacy efforts – both with University administration and the local community. To this end, it is the Commission’s responsibility to work in partnership with other minority groups and allies on campus to address issues of diversity and intersectionality more broadly. I see our work as providing support the Pride Center, developing transgender- and sexual orientation-specific community relationships and resource guides, and informing the responsible reporting of campus-wide climate survey data as efforts to increase visibility and safety for LGBTQ people on campus.

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

In my joint roles as student, lecturer, and Commission member, I have met multiple LGBTQ people across campus who do not feel safe to be “out” at the University due to fear of experiencing verbal harassment, physical threat/assault, and job insecurity.

I hope for a University of Tennessee community that takes a strong stand against hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTQ people—whether those be direct verbal or physical assaults, or vandalism of LGBTQ spaces. I imagine a University of Tennessee that has established and publicly known policies protecting LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff from discrimination. I envision a funded and thriving Pride Center that supports undergraduate and graduate students by providing a safe space; community resources; and social, advocacy, and educational opportunities for LGBTQ people and allies. I image university-specific scholarships for LGBTQ students. I hope for a campus with gender-inclusive bathrooms. Most importantly, I envision a campus body – administration, staff, faculty, and students – who are unafraid to petition in support of LGBTQ people at the University, in the community, and with our legislators.

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