By Harold Crawford, Staff Writer
Privileges and phobias are two things that some of us might not understand or even know that we have. Privilege is something that most of us would not give up. A phobia is a kind of fear that can seem almost impossible to overcome but is also an irrational fear. College is one of the best places to learn new things and meet new people to help you achieve coming to grips with irrational fears.
There are certain privileges like holding hands or showing affection in public places without being worried about safety that heterosexual people have. Phobias towards homosexual people can cause a completely different situation that not all heterosexual people have to experience.
Dr. Elián Cabrera-Nguyen is an assistant teaching professor in the School of Social Work and has worked at the University of Missouri-St. Louis since 2015. He teaches classes at the undergraduate and graduate level. He has his masters from the University of Atlanta and his doctorate from Washington University.
Cabrera-Nguyen said, “I had no idea social work was a profession…The main inspiration for me choosing social work as a profession was growing up in a poor family and I had an aunt that made it out the Miami neighborhood that I grew up in. She was more like a mother to me than anything else, she ended up becoming a clinical psychologist. I always wanted to be just like her, and then, I started learning about social work.”
Cabrera-Nguyen is openly gay and this presented some problems early on and in his pursuit of his profession. Cabrera-Nguyen was growing up in the 1980s and had only heard about being gay in a pejorative sense. He said: “It’s hard for most people regardless of sexual orientation. It was particularly hard for older people in my generation because there was not much of sexual education, unless you grew up in a very progressive area.”
Cabrera-Nguyen was growing up in what he classified as a “very religious, hyper religious, and hyper Christian environment” and that he was not aware the word gay could be used to describe himself and his feelings he was developing hitting puberty. The word dawned on him when he had his first job at the public library and he found a book about what someone could do if they have a friend that is gay. He said, “When I realized that I was gay, I thought ‘alright I’m this thing that is an abomination to god.’ But even though I had suicidal thoughts, I did not choose it.”
Being aware of little things like pictures on his work desk became the norm. He said, “If I put pictures of my spouse on my desk, the looks I get are probably different than when a same sex couple pictures would get… Jobs that I have had in the past, [Cabrera-Nguyen and his spouse] have pictures with me and my nephew in them. There were people that had problems with it.”
He really liked the research he was doing for his masters and finished his degree in 1999. Cabrera-Nguyen moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and specialized in mental health, developmental disabilities, and child welfare. He explained the different environment and experience he had moved to in San Francisco, “The day after I graduated packed up my stuff and went to San Francisco. After being there for a month or so I met this guy and we started dating. We were crossing the street and I grabbed his hand I said, ‘Come on let’s go.’ At that moment, I realized for the first time I could hold the hands of a significant other without worrying about getting killed.”
College brings together a large group of people with different backgrounds and experiences. Do not let phobias or privilege stop you from learning about UMSL classmates, teachers, administration, or staff. There are very diverse people, like Dr. Cabrera-Nguyen, with different experiences they are willing to share.