Gabriella Pinos/Staff Writer
“ALL Are Welcome Here.”
The rainbow poster hangs next to Nancy Zlatkin’s door at FIU’s Counseling and Psychological Services. As a psychologist specialized in working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer students, it’s important for Zlatkin to make them feel secure.
“This is the first thing that I want students to see when they come into my office,” said Zlatkin.
Since her arrival at FIU, Zlatkin, along with the rest of the staff at CAPS, have strived to create a safe, comfortable environment for LGBTQ students on campus. Her passion for LGBTQ advocacy began during her post-doctorate fellowship at the New College of Florida, where she observed students struggling to feel comfortable with the health services they were provided.
“These were students who were at risk and in need, and I needed to be an advocate, an ally and someone who was competent and had the tools and awareness to be able to help them,” said Zlatkin.
Some of those struggles are still visible here at FIU, where LGBTQ students often find it difficult to overcome stigmas, barriers to healthcare and lack of support at home. Even finding a place to fit in can be a taxing mission, she said.
Through her work, Zlatkin hopes to resolve these issues and more, whether it be providing easier access to healthcare or a place to call home. More than anything, Zlatkin wants students to shake off their fears when it comes to health services.
“Students will have a home here if they need it,” said Zlatkin. “That is why it is so important that we create and maintain an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and informed of best practices at CAPS.”
These best practices include Safe Zone training staff psychologists are required to take. Safe Zone refers to ally and awareness workshops in schools and organizations, which Zlatkin led at FIU for a few years.
“We take our training really seriously, where our staff are always being updated and trained in best practices,” said Zlatkin. “We recently had a seminar where we were updated with all the APA guidelines for best practices to be inclusive.”
That inclusivity can be found in the ins and outs of CAPS, from the rainbows on the office doors to the pronoun buttons Zlatkin displays next to her desk. When students fill out forms at CAPS, for instance, they have the option to use their identified pronoun and the name they want to be referred to as. Even if that name changes over time, it is kept in CAPS’ records and is used by the front desk and a student’s clinician.
“I think having that in our forms is really important. That way, people know that this is not just for cis gendered or heterosexual students, this is for LGBTQ students as well,” said Zlatkin.
Zlatkin also hopes students aren’t afraid to take advantage of CAPS’ free and confidential services, including online mental health screenings, workshops and resources. Victims of abuse and sexual assault can also be a part of FIU’s Victim Empowerment Program, she said, which is an ally of the LGBTQ community.
Finding supportive groups and individuals are also key to what CAPS brings to the table, she said. While adjusting to college and facing rejection and discrimination from loved ones can be tough, students don’t have to go through it alone.
“If you’ve had an experience and you’re willing to share that with other students who might be struggling, do so,” said Zlatkin. “Word of mouth can be really helpful, so if you’ve met somebody or been in an organization or come to CAPS, and you know somebody else who might need it, let them know. Having somebody who has been there can be really helpful.”
As for the future, Zlatkin is planning on reviving CAPS’ LGBTQ therapy group. She hopes to start marketing it soon and continue it in Fall 2018.
“It’s going to be a process-oriented group that’s be exclusively for students who identify as LGBTQ,” said Zlatkin. “It’s for them to be supportive of each other, to talk about issues that are specific to that community and to have a safe, inclusive space that they can come to every week.”
While there may be hardships for LGBTQ students in and out of college, Zlatkin encourages them to not only come to CAPS to speak with a clinician, but to find their own support group where they can flourish without fear of discrimination. In the end, all her methods point back to the poster hanging next to her door.
“I think that really summarizes my approach, not just that you can come here, but that you’re welcome here,” said Zlatkin. “If you need us, we want you here, we want to help you and we want this to be a safe place for you.”
If you would like more information about CAPS or schedule an appointment with a university psychologist, go to https://studentaffairs.fiu.edu/health-and-fitness/counseling-and-psychological-services/index.php, or visit SHC 270 (MMC) or WUC 320 (BBC).