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Commissioner Spotlight

Jennifer Jabson-Tree

Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

What is your position at the University? I am an associate professor in the department of public health. I do research that explores and addresses health disparities and inequity experienced by LGBTQ+ people.

What is your role on the Commission? I have been a member of the commission since 2015 and am currently serving as co-chair.

How do you identify, and how does that inform your work with the Commission? I identify as lesbian, cis-gender, woman.  These identities inform my work with the commission in that I am both an in-community member as lesbian, but also as an ally, working on behalf of issues relevant to other members in the community. As an out lesbian, cis-gender person, in my work with the commission, I feel responsible for being mindful of the need to seek and become educated and informed about issues and needs, as well as community-driven solutions, for community members to whom I am an ally.

Discuss some of your recent accomplishments and/or areas of study relating to the LGBTQ+ community. My research involves documenting, describing, and intervening on health disparities and health inequity as it occurs among LGBTQ+ people.  This work involves using epidemiologic methods to identify inequity and disparities. Then, based on findings from that research, I identify and implement evidence-based, innovative, multilevel, prevention interventions that extend beyond exclusive focus on the individual, to a focus on healthcare systems, communities, and the contextual systems within which individuals exist.

Currently, I have been translating and delivering online mindfulness-based stress reduction programs to LGBTQ+ communities to reduce stress caused by structural and interpersonal stigma. One of my most recent publications about mindfulness with LGB people in East Tennessee can be found here: https://mental.jmir.org/2019/8/e15048/

I am also working with regional and local healthcare organizations to improve healthcare to become affirming and competent for LGBTQ+ patients and clients.

In what ways do you see the Commission impacting the University? I see the Commission as a resource to contribute to positive campus climate for LGBTQ+ faculty, staff, and students.  It is a positive resource that can serve the University in a multitude of ways. We are an advising group that works with and advises administration about the needs and positive solutions needed for LGBTQ+ issues.  We are a positive social network for new and returning faculty, staff, and students. We work closely with the Pride Center to address climate for LGBTQ+ students with the goal of ensuring academic excellence and success. We are also well positioned to build connections between the Knoxville community and campus to advance LGBTQ+ issues more broadly in a positive way. We are a group that is a source of support for LGBTQ+ faculty, staff, and students.

What would you like to see in the future at UT for LGBTQ+ people? I would like UTK to become a leader in excellence for LGBTQ+ issues in higher education. I would like us to become the example for change in a positive direction. I would like us to be seen by our peers and other institutions of higher education as the place to emulate regarding LGBTQ+ issues. I would like us to be seen as among the best institutions for LGBTQ+ faculty, students, and staff to work, learn, play, and grow.

What is one of your favorite parts about serving on the Commission? Feeling like we can make a positive impact for LGBTQ+ people at UTK.

Leticia (Lettie) Flores

Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

What is your position at the University? I am an associate clinical professor in the department of Psychology, and Director of the UT Psychological Clinic, a community-serving training clinic for the doctoral programs in clinical and counseling psychology.

What is your role on the Commission? I co-chair the Commission with the indefatiguable Dr. Jennifer Jabson-Tree.

How do you identify, and how does that inform your work with the Commission? I identify as a heterosexual, cisgender ally. My pronouns are she/her.  I believe it is vital for everyone to be engaged in advocating for our LGBTQ+ friends, colleagues and students. Allies can push a conversation forward at times when their LGBTQ+ colleagues may feel unable to speak out, due to fears of retribution. Allies can also help members of the community do the heavy lifting of some advocacy tasks, and be good followers/foot soldiers.

Discuss some of your recent accomplishments and/or areas of study relating to the LGBTQ+ community. I am engaged in a lot of supervision of graduate students in the UT Clinic who provide psychological services to LGBTQ+ community members. We have seen a steady rise in the numbers of community members seeking services for a variety of reasons, and I am thrilled to be able to help people as they seek better and more fulfilling lives. With the Commission,  I have worked with Dr. Jabson-Tree to make our upper administration more aware of both the immense talent and the great need for support of the LGBTQ+ staff, faculty and student community. One project I have been particularly jazzed about is working with colleagues to enhance the provision of  health services for UT’s growing numbers of trans and gender diverse students.

In what ways do you see the Commission impacting the University? First and foremost, I think the Commission is important for continuously advertising the presence of  diverse and talented LGBTQ+ university community members. The university’s LGBTQ+ community has endured some hard times in the past several years, but they remain strong and resilient. I think showing, celebrating and nurturing that resilience is a major goal of the Commission. The Commission is also important for constantly advocating for provision of the same rights and opportunities for LGBTQ+ faculty, staff and students that non- LGBTQ+ university members currently enjoy, and ensuring that the community always has a seat at the decision-making table.

What would you like to see in the future at UT for LGBTQ+ people? Specifically, I’d like to see all university buildings have gender inclusive bathrooms, so no trans or gender diverse person has to worry about where they can be safe to practice a necessary biological function. I’d like us to get an option for identifying as LGBTQ+ on our student and faculty/staff applications, so we can get an accurate accounting of how big the community is. There is strength and power in knowledge, and if we had a good census of our LGBTQ+ community members, we could advocate more effectively for services/resources.  I’d like us to establish some sort of multidisciplinary health center (or Center of Excellence) that addresses the many diverse physical/mental health needs of the community. UT can be a leader in this region on this count. More generally, I’d like all my LGBTQ+ students and colleagues to feel safe and free and welcome to bring this part of their identity into everyday conversations, and not have to make dozens of calculations every day whether or not to come out to their colleague, professor, boss, etc. I’d like the university to be proud of the amazing LGBTQ+ talent they have on campus, teaching their classes, taking finals, cleaning their buildings, and otherwise working every day to make UT a good place to be and to become. I’d like the university to be the “mother of all allies”!

What is one of your favorite parts about serving on the Commission? I’m reminded of why I have enjoyed my time at UT, and why I want to give back- my LGBTQ+ colleagues and students make my life better, and I hope to return the favor in whatever way I can.