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Student’s work impacts traditionally underserved communities

A look at a smiling image of Aleksander Casas enables viewers, whether they realize it or not, to see a lot about the person that Aleksander is. The Chicago School student seems to embody positivity, and almost every answer to a question is peppered with confidence and optimism. In response to a question regarding his biggest accomplishment in his work, for example, Aleksander replied, “Every day is an accomplishment.”

A student in the Counseling Psychology Program on the Chicago Campus, Aleksander also works as a trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) outreach leader at Howard Brown Health, the Midwest’s largest lesbian, gay and bisexual health organization. Howard Brown boasts a health and social service delivery system that focuses on seven programmatic issues, including primary medical care, behavioral health, research, HIV/STI prevention, youth services, elder services, and community initiatives.

In his position, Aleksander provides support for trans and GNC individuals “who may be struggling with and/or facing hardship in many different ways,” working within the aforementioned communities to involve people in healthcare, both medical and behavioral.

“Aleksander helps Howard Brown Health expand our reach to Latinx trans men, women and gender non-conforming individuals and communities,” said Vic Motherwell, special project of national significance program manager at Howard Brown. “His expertise has already increased not only the number of people we can reach, but also the positive reputation of our work within these communities, which is vital to building the trust needed to engage people into healthcare.”

Aleksander’s desire to work with and make an impact in the trans and GNC communities, two communities that are heavily discriminated against, led him to his position at Howard Brown, an organization that he values for its work to eliminate the disparities LGBT individuals face in health settings. “The fact that such a place exists, and it exists for them, impacts people positively, and that is a motivating factor for me.”

The position at Howard Brown, along with research he is conducting on Latinx trans men with the Immigration, Critical Race and Cultural Equity Lab (IC-RACE), a research lab founded by Counseling Psychology professors Dr. Hector Adames and Dr. Nayeli Chavez, has enabled Aleksander to learn much about the communities he serves and to grow both personally and professionally. He has had the opportunity to work on the IC-RACE project, called the Translatinx Project with both Drs. Adames and Chavez and 2012 Counseling alum, Silvia P. Salas-Pizaña. Members of the team will be presenting some of their research later this month at Columbia University’s 34th Annual Winter Roundtable on Cultural Psychology and Education, in a presentation titled Between Authenticity and Hate: Latinx Transmen Surviving Community Violence.

“Our team’s research focuses on a group even deeper within the community that holds multiple identities, and thus are subject to experience more stressors and barriers,” Aleksander explained. “There is scarce literature on Latinx trans men in general, so being able to shed light on this specific community makes Latinx trans men visible. Our research will eventually provide clinical implications for mental health professionals working with this population.”

Aleksander is a student studying in the Latino Mental Health Concentration, and expects to graduate in 2018, after which, he plans to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology and continue to work in trans health. He seems a perfect fit for the role he’s chosen.

“Alek has been an absolute pleasure to work with thus far. He is genuine, focused, enthusiastic and flexible,” Motherwell said when explaining their working relationship. “The depth of his contextual analysis and commitment to the health and wellbeing of our shared communities is striking and invaluable.”

Describing Aleks’ work as “consistently exemplary,” Motherwell shared that because of Aleksander, their outreach team has been able to connect with community members in a way that has been more structured and purposeful than it would be if Aleksander weren’t a part of it.

“I am expanding my knowledge on trans health every day and growing as a professional,” Aleksander said. “My position, along with my education, is helping me grow as a clinician so that I am in a better position to provide services for communities with intersecting identities.”

He summed up what he likes best about working at Howard Brown this way: “Every aspect of the work that is being done for the LGBT community.”