One of the first events that Margaret Trout helped to coordinate when she arrived at the University of Portland was a Diversity Dialogues Week session about healthy sex and sexual relationships. For many, this frank and honest conversation about sex was a surprising departure from what had been the norm at UP: to avoid conversations that might suggested that sex happens on campus.
But for Trout, the director of the Health and Counseling Center, the necessity of this sort of event was obvious.
“I don’t think the Health and Counseling Center had ever said out loud, ‘We are your sexual health experts on campus, we want to talk to you about it,’” Trout said. “Just because we’re not prescribing contraceptives — we’re still aligning with the Catholic beliefs in that way — we still know about it and want to talk to you about it and would never shame anyone for asking about that.”
Trout is leaving UP on May 11 after two years at the helm of the Health and Counseling Center, but in that short time, she helped to make significant changes to the culture and conversations about health on campus (including adding “counseling” to the name of the center). She will be heading to the University of California at Davis to become the Executive Director for Health and Wellness.
A UP alumna (‘97) but a California native, Trout said the new job will allow her to be closer to family. She also says she looks forward to the complexity of the position — which will involve overseeing the university's pharmacy, optometry center and urgent care services.
“They were doing a more aggressive search than most and had emailed me and some of my colleagues that do the same position that I do to alert us about the position, and it was intriguing to me,” Trout said. “It’s a large school like Portland State, where I’ve also previously worked, and I really enjoy the diversity of the large public schools.”
But in the meantime, she’s wrapping things up on The Bluff and reflecting on the upgrades she’s made to the Health and Counseling Center, which include everything from reducing the wait time for first-time counseling appointments from two weeks to two days, to hiring students to run the Student Health Advisory Board, to removing posters in the waiting room that touted “100 Ways to be Abstinent” and replacing them with cartoon explanations of the menstrual cycle.
Tiger Simpson, UP’s Wellness Education and Violence Prevention coordinator, was hired by Trout at the start of this year. She changed the title of Simpson’s position from simply “violence prevention coordinator” to encourage a more holistic approach, she says.
“Even during the interview, I could tell she cared about people, which was the type of environment I wanted to be a part of,” Simpson said. “Margaret trusts her team - offering guidance while not taking control, which can be a line many people have trouble with. Above all else though, she was here for students. She is a fierce advocate, role model, and team member. Her absence will be noticeably missed.”
And Trout’s reach has also extended beyond the walls of Orrico Hall. She has acted as the advisor for the Students Against Sexual Assault organization, which introduced consent education to Orientation and has hosted events like the showing of the documentary “Hunting Ground” this year.
She credits student work for the success of many of these changes, and she hopes student momentum will ensure that many of these upgrades persist.
“I think coming from a school (Willamette University) that has a culture of student activism a little more than UP, that’s what I expected and am used to,” Trout said. “So when our Student Health Advisory Board said, ‘We’re living in a culture where we’re not talking about sex or sexuality or healthy relationships very much, can we do that?’ My instant answer is, “Of course we can do that, let’s do that!’ I think it was great that the students came up with these great ideas and the person they happened to come to for support was me.”
The University will soon be posting the job description for the position, Trout said, and her replacement will likely be hired over the summer. The search for a replacement for Will Meek, the former director of Psychological and Counseling Services who left in March, has been put on hold until Trout’s position is filled, but the center should be fully staffed by the start of the coming school year.