Transgender students can benefit from an interdisciplinary effort to address their needs, a campus administrator said at an event Monday.
Saeromi Kim, interim director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center and assistant clinical director of Counseling and Psychological Services, detailed her efforts to create the Trans Wellness Team, an interdisciplinary team designed to specifically address transgender students’ issues. Her talk was part of a series of events for National Public Health Week, organized by UCLA Students of Color for Public Health.
The Trans Wellness Team coordinates communication between medical, mental health and case management providers to help transgender students navigate their treatment options for mental and physical health needs, Kim said.
“This knowledge and awareness and research being put into this area of (transgender) health is very recent,” she said. “Of course, the issues and people’s needs have been there forever.”
The team holds monthly meetings between representative faculty from the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, UC SHIP, the LGBTQ center and CAPS to discuss transgender student issues such as case consultations for CAPS clinical staff.
“A student can end up with anyone in our staff, and I’m constantly trying to train staff members to increase their capacity to work with transgender students and their health,” Kim said. “This is not something they’ve learned in their training, they have to go an extra step to learn about trans health.”
The team also aims to influence university decisions on insurance coverage and treatment accessibility, she said.
“We, as mental health and medical professionals, have really good feedback to give to our campus partners about transgender students’ needs,” Kim said. “Some of these students are not talking (about their problems) to anyone else, they’re talking to us.”
Kim added the team collaborated with the registrar’s office to allow transgender students to have their preferred names included on their official records.
Kim also said she thinks UC SHIP provides good coverage for transgender students by covering not only certain surgical procedures, but also travel expenses for sex reassignment surgeries and fertility preservation. However, she added there is still room for improvement, as certain surgical procedures, such as breast augmentation surgery, known as top surgery, are still not covered despite being important for students’ gender expression.
“We still have a long ways to go,” Kim said. “(UC) SHIP and insurance people are saying the male-to-female top surgery may not be medically necessary, but it’s the one we most often hear about (from transgender individuals).”
Kim said this lack of coverage exists because many legal and medical professionals in the university likely do not have knowledge about transgender health and mental health issues. However, interdisciplinary teamwork between legal and mental health specialists could change the designation of whether certain procedures are medically necessary for transgender students, she said.
Celeste Romano, a graduate student in epidemiology and member of Students of Color for Public Health who organized the event, said she admired Kim’s approach of addressing transgender health through a social justice and clinical perspective.
“I knew her as a counselor at the campus LGBT center,” she said. “Her work represented the interdisciplinary intersections that our organization strives for.”
James Huynh, a graduate student in community health sciences and Asian American studies, and vice president of Students of Color for Public Health, said he thinks prioritizing the health of marginalized groups such as transgender individuals is crucial to improving overall public health in society.
“For National Public Health Week, we wanted to focus on who are the people falling through the cracks,” he said. “Transgender people statistically have higher rates of suicide and other problems, and we need to make the UCLA community talk about that.”