Episode 35: LGBT Life at Pritzker (Part 2/2)

Five current Pritzker students—Akash Parekh, Marina Sharifi, Philippe Tapon, Nathan West, and Ning Zhou—join us to discuss applying to and attending Pritzker as an LGBT student.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com. Or, call (773) 336-2POD and leave us a message.

[Music: “The Area” used with permission from Eliot Lipp. “Shiggidy” used with permission from Greg Spero and GMG.]

Episode 35 Transcript

BF: Hey everyone, this is Ben again with the Pritzker Podcast, and welcome to Episode 35. This is Part 2 of our two-part series on LGBT life at Pritzker, and this is just a continuation of the interview we were doing with Joni and five current LGBT Pritzker students. If you haven’t listened to the first part, I would definitely recommend you go back and listen to Episode 34 and get acclimated to who these students are. And in this episode, we’ll talk more about what it’s like to be a student–an LGBT student–at Pritzker, and hope you enjoy the interview. On to Part 2!


BF: Well, I think that’s probably a good place to transition in terms of at what you gained from learning from Pritzker before you came to school here and then actually being a student here. Has a lot of that sense that Pritzker is an accepting place for the LGBT community come to fruition? How has life been here?

Nathan West: One thing that I’ve noticed is that the men and women that do not identify as LGBT are extremely LGBT-friendly. Even the conservative–I mean, one of the great things about our class is that we have a huge variety in different thoughts and opinions, but even the conservative Christian and the international student or Southern student or any kind of these archetypes that you might presume to be prejudiced against LGBT folk are not almost as a rule. I have not had–I’ve only had experiences where it’s been extremely accepting and I would have to say that that’s a very welcome experience. And I’m coming from a background where I was surrounded by progressive Boston and I have to say Pritzker was even probably–I have more of an experience with that here at Pritzker, which was a shock. But a pleasant one.

Joni Krapec: It’s because you’re so charming.

Marina Sharifi: I mean, I would actually really heartily second that. I mean, I think for me, because I was coming from Berkeley, the Bay Area, where bisexuality had never really been an issue, so I wasn’t really sure–I mean, having talked to students here and some faculty here, I thought that things would be pretty welcoming and I wouldn’t have–I didn’t think I had any overt problems, but I was surprised at how open and welcoming my class was in spite–like Nathan said, I mean, my year was also very diverse, and there are some people who I’m sure have moral objections to my sexual orientation, but that wasn’t something that ever came up. People were friendly, people were happy to accept me and–

NW: Accepting.

MS: Yeah. And, you know, to do things like invite my girlfriend to class parties and things like that were–I just felt like there was never an issue here, so I was pleased.

Philippe Tapon: I’m delighted to third that, as well, again with having friends that I would not have expected from their sort of stated political affiliations to be welcoming, to insist that I bring my boyfriend to parties, perhaps because they had their cache. They wanted to be charming, too! It’s not just for Mormons! So that was extremely pleasant. And another point that I would like to bring up, too, is that there are LGB faculty–no T faculty so far as I know–but certainly in the Department of Medicine, in the Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery, in the Department of Emergency Medicine, I’ve been able to meet faculty who are out and who are willing to lend their support to student organizations and to encourage LGBT students to pursue those particular fields with some matches, I know, among the classes who have already gone because they’ve found mentors in those fields.

NW: Or the faculty that are not LGB, I guess and theoretically T, also are extremely gay-friendly in my experience, too, and the same kind of welcoming that I’m talking about, that I mentioned from the students so that was nice. So I did research over the summer in a laboratory where I would talk with–his name is Dr. Onel, he is one of the pediatric oncologists here–and it was a great experience. And including the conversations we would have about everything from pride to what dance music they’re playing at the gay clubs to, you know, how his wife wishes that they had a gay son so that she could, like, go out and, you know–

PT: That’s charming.

NW: Yeah. So just also for the non-LGBT faculty.

Ning Zhou: And I’ve just had a really positive experience as well. It hasn’t ever been an issue here.

Akash Parekh: I will fifth that? I came from a pretty conservative background in Florida and this is better so there’s not much I could ask for.

BF: And what about the broader surroundings of Chicago? Have you found Chicago to be a very accepting city as well?

NW: Boystown is amazing. I like Andersonville, too.

BF: Do you live up there?

NW: I live in South Loop, which is–

BF: Go South Loop!

NW: –a great choice even for first years.

JK: And we should interrupt for a second for all of our listeners who are not as Chicago-savvy, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. And so these phrases–Boystown, Andersonville, South Loop–these are all various neighborhoods within the city of Chicago that each have their own—

AP: They’re not like separate cities.

JK: Yes, they’re not separate cities.

AP: Which I thought they were.

JK: You don’t need to commute to find any of these places.

BF: There’s no suburb called Boystown.

JK: No.

PT: We’re working on that.

MS: That would be very cool!

NW: So I would say that there is a great LGBT community and great nightlife. And more than just night life, for example, there is the Center on Halsted or on Broadway or the Howard Brown, which are community resources, Howard Brown specifically being an LGBT-focused health center. In fact, I believe the CHO is a Pritzker graduate and has welcomed us to shadow. So there’s great resources out there in the community. I would say that Chicago as a whole, excluding Boystown and Andersonville and the Howard Brown and areas that are sort of enclaves of LGBT people, would be friendly, though of course there’s always going to be people with–oh, I wouldn’t feel unsafe for being gay and I can’t think of a community where I would feel unsafe for being gay, but I’m sure that I’m going to come across awkward comments like I would probably in any city, so…yeah.

NZ: And just to add on to that, there is a gay beach in Chicago, Hollywood Beach. And I remember I went for the first time a couple of weeks ago. And you pass by these softball fields and there’s gay softball and gay sports and it seemed like a very thriving community. And coming from Los Angeles, it was like the West Hollywood equivalent to–Boystown would be like the West Hollywood equivalent of Los Angeles.

PT: One surprise I think that’s unique to Chicago–Chicago is sort of a separated city, the north side and the south side. Well, most of the sort of famous LGB enclaves are on the north side. But you can find extraordinary pockets on the south side: little bars, little places, little hangouts that you would never have imagined, that would hardly exist in any other city. It’s been a real eye-opener to be inside these places and to find yourself a minority among minorities such that, believe me, I’m from San Francisco and I have never seen anything like it.

BF: At Pritzker and at the University of Chicago, are there a lot of student groups that involve a lot of LGBT students and stuff like that? Are there specific groups like that? I’m just not familiar with them myself.

NW: I almost find that an odd question because everything at Pritzker would involve the LGBT students. It’s like–

BF: Well, let me clarify. I mean, many of you mentioned why the LGBT clubs, for example, when you’re looking into medical schools. Does that sort of thing exist at Pritzker?

NZ: Yeah. There’s an LGBTQP…M?

PT: I call it the alphabet soup now…

NZ: –which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer People in Medicine.

PT: Yeah.

NW: So there is an official student group here at Pritzker.

AP: I know there’s also a university-wide group. I remember when I was accepted and I had passed someone at the admissions office. Because we are a medical school on the University of Chicago campus, I know there’s–like I said, like a campus-wide one with like the law school, the business school, the undergrad, the medical school. I don’t know very much about it but I know they host events, mixers for everybody.

NW: One thing that sort of struck me is that one of the events that they held recently was showing of the movie “Transamerica”. And certainly the people that did not identify as LGBT definitely outnumbered those that did at the showing, so the entire class was participating in the club’s events. So I thought that was pretty cool.

JK: Yeah. And actually our LGBTQPM group is currently being led by a student who is not gay himself but who defines himself as an ally and as a friend, and it was something that he’s been very involved with and really wanted to support as well. So I think what you all have said about non-LGBT persons at Pritzker and in Chicago at large still being very supportive and opening I think definitely has very tangible evidence here as well.

BF: Do you guys have any sense of how many people from each class typically are LGBT, or maybe generally? I just don’t know, you know?

JK: Yeah. I mean, from an admissions standpoint, we don’t have a checkbox for that. So I have absolutely no idea. I could probably make guesses based on the students that I know, but…

PT: Not that that would be inappropriate or anything.

JK: No, I mean, those who have disclosed! I shouldn’t say I should guess based on somebody’s–

NW: So they’re not based on suspicion.

JK: Not based on suspicion. Or level of charm. Just based on if they have disclosed it.

PT: Nathan’s running sort of like a body language study at the moment. He’s recruiting.

NW: Oh, I’ve been paying attention. I’ve been paying attention to– So in terms of numbers, I feel like–so what struck me is that there are four guys in our class of 88, which is pretty proportional actually to the overall population. And depending on what percentage you choose, what study–

AP: Which statistic you want to go with…

NW: Which statistic you want to go with. But it’s like, you know–

BF: How many letters are included in the acronym…

NW: Yeah. So in the other classes, I’m not sure, but I have met LGBT people from each class, so… No, I don’t know the numbers.

JK: I really don’t, either. Like I said, it’s not something that we really track or–I do know that it’s enough students that if somebody asks on an interview day, “Is there an LGBT student that I could talk with?” I can always get one. So there certainly is enough in that regard.

PT: In my year, I knew of two guys who identified as gay at the start. By the time that many of my–I mean, I stayed back one year to do extra projects. I think three guys came out and two women came out during the course of their time at Pritzker, which I think says something about how comfortable they felt while they were here.

BF: I mean, is that like a common thing for people to come out during medical school as opposed to having done it beforehand?

NW: Well, I’ve talked to some doctor friends about this who sort of went through the medical school experience of being gay, and one of them having a roommate who ended up coming out later who he had a crush on but thought was straight. Anyway.

MS: How sad.

PT: Yeah. Oh, no.

JK: Your body language study needs to focus on that.

NW: So I wonder if there might be some factors that would track–everybody is at different points in their lives and certainly there’s going to be people in medical schools that haven’t either become aware of being gay or haven’t made a transition to being comfortable being out. And I think that’s true at Pritzker just like anywhere else. And maybe then, especially in medical school for any variety of reasons, which could be a summer research project, so…yeah.

AP: I think, in my mind it just makes sense that people would come out during the course of medical school. I just feel like we all mentioned, everyone is really supportive, everyone is really accepting. There’s four awesome gay people in our class and–

BF: So far…

MS: So far!

AP: And if they haven’t come out yet in the process of med school, I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

BF: Yeah.

AP: It makes sense.

MS: Yeah. I think it also depends on, you know, where people are, and this is like the time of life when some people who maybe weren’t comfortable with it before are realizing that, yeah, you know, that’s a sign.

NW: It could be anything from feeling more secure from being on a career path that you feel like you can be independent to validation of having a strong application and going through the process successfully. You know, it’s very individual, but–

AP: Like it’s not going to hold you back, you know, like during the med school process you feel like it’s really not going to hold me back. This is me, I want to be out, and I think that being here gives you that sense of assurance.

BF: Well, we’re kind of running short on time. Do you guys have any final thoughts to add or maybe things that you think that medical students who are applying as LGBT students should know before they start the application process or before they start looking at Pritzker?

PT: We throw on a T as a sort of adding on to it, although I have not seen any T doctors at this school, though I know that they exist. I have actually met one and shadowed one in San Francisco. And I think it’s just a matter of time before the T students come forward as well and I just encourage them to do that because it’s far more common than is understood to be. In many ways, LGB is not the cutting edge anymore. It’s not an issue anymore. I mean, no, really, it’s T where it’s at at the moment increasingly and I’m encouraging people out there to come forward.

AP: I think the only thing that I would add is that going through this process definitely would be proactive with contacting schools. If you’re concerned about the LGBT environment at a school, I think just contact people at the school that, you know, like the admissions office, ask them to get you in touch with some students and get a better sense of the community, if that’s a concern that you have.

NZ: I’d say, for me, I wasn’t ever really concerned about the school environment. I knew–people our age or people who are medical students tend to be very accepting and open people. For me, something I looked into also was the city and were there other venues or opportunities to have fun during medical school. Boystown is a good place to have fun. Other cities don’t have what Chicago has. So I think it’s a huge draw to be in Chicago, to be in such a diverse and colorful environment. It’s a huge plus.

NW: I would probably just mention as a point of information–that anyone could draw their own inferences from–is that cultural competency in LGBT areas is a part of our coursework, and it’s something that everyone learns about and everyone becomes more competent in and honestly probably fully competent in, considering the exposure. So it’s actually part of what we learn.

JK: And I would say just, again from an admissions standpoint, is medical school is four years or longer. I think half of the table is in the “or longer” category. And it’s a really important time in your life and it’s also a very–it can be a very stressful time, it can be a time that you encounter, as Philippe was saying, patients that really challenge you, that you encounter other students and friends. And I think regardless of your own background, you need to be who you are and you need to feel as though you’re supported within the medical school environment. And it’s not something that anyone should feel a hesitation or “I’m sure it will be fine.” Make sure that it’s fine. Make sure that this is a place, or that any medical school that you’re thinking about, is a place that you can be yourself and feel supported and validated and comfortable with who you are, because medical school will throw enough at you. You don’t need to kind of be floating on the edge as well, not feeling as though you are supported for any capacity of who you are, whether it’s a non-traditional student, LGBT student, somebody who has children, somebody who maybe left a different career to come in towards medicine, whatever that unique quality about you might be, I think it’s really important to know that your medical school has resources for you and to not simply kind of hope for it but to definitely make sure that they are there before you make the commitment of signing on to a medical school.

BF: Well, we’ll end on that note. Thanks, everybody, for joining the Pritzker Podcast. It’s been good.


BF: So there you have it. That was Part 2 of our two-part series on LGBT life at Pritzker. Hope you enjoyed the two parts of the interview. If you have any questions, as always, you can email us at pritzkerquestions@gmail.com if you feel that we didn’t cover something that you might still have questions about. And please stay tuned for some exciting episodes coming up in the Pritzker Podcast future. Talk to you soon!