Community / Social Justice

Using Privilege and Platform to Raise Up Marginalized Populations

Adler University student Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball, a student in the Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D) program in Chicago, received a great opportunity for her burgeoning career when she was asked to speak as the keynote at the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Los Angeles chapter’s spring 2019 professional development event. She also won a Professional Development Scholarship from Adler University to help make the experience possible. In preparation for the event, Ball exercised firsthand how to use her privilege to elevate marginalized populations and how to harness the power of collaboration.

I was shocked and very grateful to be invited to be the speaker for the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals: Los Angeles chapter’s spring 2019 professional development event. I was invited to speak on a subject that I am passionate about and have previously spoken on before: how transgender and non-binary individuals experience eating disorders and how current treatment models are often harmful rather than helpful for this population. The original plan, as proposed and accepted by the association, was that I would speak alone.

As the event was advertised, however, there was a bit of an uproar over the fact that a cisgender woman would be speaking on behalf of transgender individuals when there were two transgender eating disorder specialists in the state of California. I first reacted by thinking that I deserved that opportunity to speak since I had put in an enormous amount of work researching the subject and had been the one to pitch the idea. But at some point, I recalled what I’d learned from Adler University about systems of oppression and marginalized communities, and I realized that although I was as good a person as any to start a conversation about transgender individuals and eating disorders, it was my ethical duty as a person of privilege to step back as soon as the transgender community was safe and able to take up space in that conversation.

Thus, I invited one of the transgender eating disorder specialists in California to speak with me at this event. It was the right thing to do. I couldn’t use my privilege to take up valuable space in a conversation where I, a person with zero lived experience, would be seen as the expert. And I was so very grateful that I did. Jack Geballe, my co-presenter, has ended up being a close friend, confidante, and one half of the dynamic duo that is the JenBall and Geballe show. His presence, of course, gave us much more credibility and made people want to come and listen to what we had to say. However, I didn’t anticipate that I’d learn so much about the transgender experience from him. He currently lives with an eating disorder and was able to bring such authenticity and presence to the presentation. Plus, it was great to have a co-presenter to rely on and help me as we prepared and spoke.

The presentation went incredibly well. It was well-attended from people all over California and within the broader LGBTQ community. I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions we got from the crowd. Everybody had said they wished we had been given more than two hours to present on the subject, and many people encouraged us to create formal trainings we could bring to their eating disorder treatment centers. So we listened and are currently working on creating a curriculum on treating transgender or non-binary individuals with eating disorders, and we’re planning on bringing it to treatment providers across the United States next year, starting off with the larger International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals symposium where we have the opportunity to speak to thousands of clinicians.

None of this good fortune and opportunity have happened had I not brought Jack on board to speak with me at this event. Instead of using my privilege to essentially position myself above the transgender community, I was able to use that privilege and platform to bring one person in that community to my platform and thus open the door for more transgender individuals to be able to continue and take over the conversation. This was my big takeaway from the whole experience: that I should use my good fortune to lift others rather than to self-aggrandize.