A young Leticia Flores went to graduate school in Dallas during the HIV epidemic in the early 90s. Through her clinical and advocacy work, Flores routinely met those within the LGBTQ+ community affected by the epidemic. Such an experience, combined with her deep-rooted natural curiosity, led her ultimately on her current path at UT Knoxville as an associate professor in the department of psychology, the director for the UT Psychological Clinic and the chair for the Commission for LGBT People.
“I’ve always been naturally nosy, or really, interested in hearing people’s stories,” Flores said. “I strive to serve as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. During my experiences in Dallas, I learned that there was a huge LGBTQ+ population and community there. I got to hear about their stories, their trials, and their struggles. Many died quickly, and didn’t have support. It affected me in such a dramatic way, and it’s something I will never forget.”
Flores teaches graduate courses in psychology, and has supervised graduate students for over 10 years. She has remained active clinically for over 13 years, with a specialty working with adults on ethnic, sexual and gender identity issues. When she first moved to Knoxville, she became engaged in local community and advocacy work, and recalled the experience as “going back in time.”
“Knoxville has come such a long way since I first moved here, but there’s still such a long way to go. There are so many more resources now for our LGBTQ+ community and minority groups,” Flores said. “I am proud of the progress that has been made, and there is the support needed for continued growth.”
Within the last year, Flores became involved with the Commission for LGBT People and currently serves as the commission’s co-chair. She believes that the commission offers a sense of stability for the LGBTQ+ community, and is thankful for the campus support toward the commission.
“There’s really been an energizing feeling for the commission and amazing support from Chancellor Plowman. There’s a sense of, we are here to stay. We don’t have to live in the shadows, but we can advocate openly for inclusivity and making sure those in the LGBTQ+ community are supported and have the resources they need on campus,” Flores said.
Within her own classroom, Flores continually advocates for open-mindedness and introspection among her students by selecting readings or real-world vignettes that promote diversity. She welcomes students’ personal experiences into the learning experiences, and encourages students to learn from one another’s different backgrounds.
“It’s so much fun watching them learn from one another, but I even learn so much from them,” Flores said. “There is such a huge difference between generations these days. Certain ideas transmit but the language shifts. Through it all, I want to challenge them to not make assumptions about one another or certain groups of people. You could look exactly the same, but be different, and vice-versa.”
For the UT community, Flores wishes Vols to remember that the commissions are not exclusive to those that only identify with that community personally.
“The Commission for LGBTQ+ People is smaller in size. If you’re an ally, join us. Students, staff and faculty are all welcome. We’re all just a bunch of people with different backgrounds, trying to achieve a common goal, and that’s to help and support, not exclude,” Flores said.
For a list of inclusive teaching resources, click here.