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Advocacy in Action: Giselle Avila ‘24 (Public Health) Speaks Up for Trans Youth at SOPHE National Conference

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“Education for service” is not just a motto, it’s a calling that students at the University of Indianapolis fulfill with passion each and every day of their studies. Giselle Avila is fulfilling that call by serving as a voice for those who are often overlooked in today’s healthcare system. 

As a graduate of Christel House Academy South, Giselle was already familiar with UIndy when she began her college search. UIndy’s small classes sizes and personalized attention from faculty were highly appealing to Giselle, as she graduated with a class of less than 30 students. 

“So I figured a super big university wasn’t going to be a great fit for me,” said Giselle. “I was so used to being able to get to know my professors and talk to them and connect with them. So I really liked the draw of that at UIndy.”

Giselle began her journey at UIndy with the goal of becoming a doctor, and originally declared as a nursing major. However, she quickly realized that nursing was not the right fit for her. After speaking with her academic advisors and her career coach in the Professional Edge Center, she chose to change her major to biology with a pre-med concentration. But something was still not fitting quite right.

“I majored in biology for about a year, and it just wasn’t the right fit,” explained Giselle. “I met with my coach in ProEdge, and we talked about my big, long-term goals. They asked me what I saw myself doing long term, and then they asked, ‘Well, have you thought about public health?’”

That one question set Giselle on the path to discovering and pursuing her passions for healthcare advocacy.

“My passion within public health really has to do with health disparities and marginalized populations,” said Giselle. “Being a person of color and being a woman and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s like everything is rooting against you. So having the privilege of being cisgendered and being in a space where I have this education, I have the opportunity to use my voice. I wanted to make sure I did that.”

And UIndy’s public health promotion and education (PHEP) program had the perfect class to help Giselle build her advocacy skills.

In Dr. Hancher-Raucher’s health policy and advocacy course, Giselle was tasked with analyzing a piece of healthcare legislation, identifying potential benefits and proposing solutions to any potential drawbacks. Giselle knew she wanted to focus on legislation within her interests, and chose to focus on a controversial Indiana Senate Bill that would prohibit physicians from providing gender-affirming care to minors. In her analysis, Giselle advocated against the legislation, explaining the harmful impact it would have on the transgender population in Indiana. 

“The part I really struggled with was coming up with solutions,” said Giselle. “I worked with Dr. Rauch really closely on that part. I was in her office all the time. I wanted to argue that they just shouldn’t pass the bill, but Dr. Rauch said, ‘We have to be realistic. What else can we do?’”

Giselle would go on to advocate for more health advocates to be present in public policy realms to provide additional expertise and greater influence in healthcare matters.

Dr. Heidi Hancher-Rauch with Giselle Avila at SOPHE Conference
Dr. Heidi Hancher-Rauch with Giselle Avila at SOPHE Advocacy Conference

While the legislation ended up passing, Giselle’s passion for advocacy was unwavering. She continued to seek out opportunities to use her voice and found her next one at the Society of Public Health Education’s (SOPHE) annual advocacy conference in Washington, D.C.

Healthcare advocates from across the country gather at SOPHE’s annual conference to share updates and strategies on current advocacy efforts, and to present research from universities, students, professors, and more. After being accepted into the student track, Giselle traveled to Washington D.C. with Dr. Hancher-Rauch and presented her analysis to conference attendees, including members of SOPHE’s board of trustees. “It was a great opportunity to interact with other advocates, and I received great feedback on my research,” said Giselle.

Giselle remains active in the Indiana chapter of SOPHE, and recently earned a position on their Board of Directors as InSOPHE’s Advocacy Director.

As Giselle prepares to graduate in May, she reflects back on the relationships she’s built at UIndy and how those relationships launched some of her most memorable opportunities:

“The great thing about going to such a small school is the connections that you make, and being able to really build those relationships with your professors. I literally just can’t shut up about Dr. Rauch. She’s amazing. Your professors are going to be some of your biggest advocates as long as you work with them. They’ll be there for you.”