My Winthrop Experience

Ethan Johnstone '18
Residence: Greenville, South Carolina
Degree: Social work
Occupation: Mentoring and outreach coordinator

In and out of college and undecided about a field of study, Ethan Johnstone finally found social work.

The Winthrop alumnus said his life experience helped spark an interest there.

"My identity as a transgender man living in the South comes with its own set of unique experiences; understanding privilege, access to resources, and living an authentic life," said Johnstone, who received his master's degree in social work in May. "I became passionate about equipping other people with the tools and resources they needed to live their best life."

He said he wanted to pursue his master's degree because he wanted more understanding of the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality. "I wanted to have more discussions of systemic oppression and racism and the ways to dismantle those in society," Johnstone said. "I wanted to learn more ways to practically apply empowerment to working with vulnerable people and communities."

He also wanted to learn how to engage in the political process in his community, to be an agent of change, and to advocate for the marginalized who are often silenced or left out of the conversation completely.

As part of his master's degree, Johnstone completed an internship at Pendleton Place in Greenville, South Carolina. The executive director included him in big picture discussions of how to run the organization so he could understand what it takes to lead a nonprofit. He worked on securing new funding, on performance measurements, on leading an interagency committee focusing on program strengthening and expansion, and on social media and diversity strategies.

Johnstone also participated with a Winthrop social work faculty member and fellow student on conducting the "Upstate SC LGBTQ Needs and Assets Assessment" survey to Upstate residents. The results showed that while a few LGBTQ people are experiencing overt discrimination in their community, others experienced mostly subtle implicit bias and negative stereotypes that led to increased rates of stress, then poor mental and physical health. "The lack of cultural competence in workplaces, medical settings, schools, etc. in the community lead to LGBTQ people facing financial barriers, difficulty accessing quality healthcare, and worse academic and employment outcomes," Johnstone said.

Almost half of those surveyed felt unaccepted by their families, one-third were told they were going to hell, about half felt like an outcast or not respected at work or in their university, one-third had to teach their doctor about care related to their LGBTQ status, and surprisingly many experienced discrimination from within the LGBTQ community.

A comprehensive final report has been sent to Greenville Health System, who paid for the project. A similar report will be composed to distribute to other social service agencies and for the LGBTQ community.

A non-traditional student, Johnstone said he loved his Winthrop experience and the interaction with faculty members. Awarded the National Association of Social Workers, South Carolina Chapter graduate student of the year in March, Johnstone has accepted a job with Pendleton Place as its mentoring and outreach coordinator.

He'll also continue his advocacy work for the LGBTQ community and has started planning for the creation of a nonprofit specifically focused on serving the LGBTQ community in the Upstate.

"Through my capstone project, I can use that work as the beginning framework for an LGBTQ mobile resource center that will hopefully reduce LGBTQ health disparities and increase access to services, support and resources," Johnstone said.