When senior advertising major Keilani Mansfield was in high school, she felt shy and reserved about her sexual orientation.
“Realizing that I identified with a sexual orientation other than straight was awkward at first. Growing up, homosexuality was preached by my family as something unnatural and sinful. I was definitely confused,” Mansfield said.
Since arriving at VCU, things have changed for Mansfield. VCU undertakings like the new LGBT behavioral clinic and the Division of Inclusive Excellence have made students coping with similar concerns feel welcome on campus.
“As a VCU student, I find myself very comfortable with my sexuality. My eyes were opened to a new world stepping into VCU, where so much diversity exists,” Mansfield said. “There are times I encounter people who are ignorant of LGBT issues, but I personally haven’t had a bad experience based on my sexuality during my time here at VCU.”
The new clinic, which opened late August, in VCU’s Nelson Clinic, 401 N. 11 St., is operated by the school and open to the public.
Isaac Wood, M.D., the clinic’s founder and professor at the VCU School of Medicine, said those in the LGBT community are at a high risk of several disorders.
“According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most research suggests that LGBT people are likely to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety and substance use disorders than the general population,” Wood said in an email.
“The reasons for these disparities is most likely related to the societal stigma and resulting prejudice and discrimination that LGBT people face on a regular basis, from society at large, but also from family members, peers, co-workers and classmates,” he said.
He also said the school has worked hard to create a safe environment for incoming patients.
“Everyone in the VCU clinic, from receptionists to the medical director, has undergone special training to create a safe zone for sexual minorities to seek mental health care,” Wood said.
Mansfield said she was aware of the new clinic, and was thankful for the effort VCU has made toward diversity.
“The university is very proactive about having the best facilities available and accessible to those with specific needs. The operators of such organizations and facilities are not only extremely educated, but passionate about reaching out to sexual minorities,” she said. “VCU has done an awesome job enriching the community and providing the utmost support to LGBT.”
Mansfield said she has been happy with her experience as a gay student at VCU, there is still one thing she would like to see added to campus.
“Honestly, I would love to see gender-neutral bathrooms,” she said.
VCU has also taken steps to make everyday life on campus more welcoming for LGBT students.
Wanda S. Mitchell, Ed.D., vice president of the VCU Division for Inclusive Excellence, works to ensure equality for all students. VCU hired Mitchell in 2012 after a yearlong national search held in 2011. Since arriving, she has worked to address the diversity climate in university athletics started the search for an LGBT coordinator.
Mitchell said the the Division for Inclusive Excellence, fomerly known as the VCU Division of Diversity and Equity, is modeled after the environment on-campus.
“William and Mary has a Chief Diversity Officer. Virginia Tech has a Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. Our system is set up to match the student body. It is a committee-based group just like the way our students are community-based,” she said.