Dr. B. Ethan Coston, Assistant Professor, GSWS
Written by Dr. Kathleen Ingram, Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair, Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies
Dr. B. Ethan Coston is an activist scholar whose work focuses on health inequalities and health justice, and on critical sexuality studies. While pursuing their PhD in sociology at Stony Brook University, Dr. Coston served as a pre-doctoral fellow at the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health at The Fenway Institute in Boston, and also worked with grassroots organizations that seek to end violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals and to support survivors. Much of Dr. Coston’s research has focused on health among LGBTQIA+ individuals, with an emphasis on those who are neurodivergent and/or disabled. This work examines how violence and trauma (particularly dating, sexual, and intimate partner violence) and experiences of minority stress are associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes. In 2017, Dr. Coston was awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, New Connections: Increasing Diversity of RWJF Programming, for a project entitled: “Improving Access to and Experiences with Health Care for Sexual Minority Women Survivors of Violence.”
In the past few years, Dr. Coston began shifting their scholarly framework to emphasize resilience, healing, thriving, pleasure, and community-building. In December 2021, Dr. Coston was awarded a major grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas: Exploring the Future to Build a Culture of Health program. The Pioneering Ideas program supports projects that proposed “unconventional approaches and breakthrough ideas that can help lead the way to a future where everyone in the United States can live their healthiest life possible.” Dr. Coston’s grant, “Improving Sexual Health for 2LGBTQIA+ People in the U.S.” ($462,748), is the largest funded project in the history of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies. The project reflects a strengths-based approach to examining sex, sexuality, and sexual health among sexual and gender minoritized individuals. One aim of the project is to develop The Sexual health, Erotic life, and pleasure eXperiencing (SEX) Assessment to measure the breadth and depth of the sexuality prism, which includes sexual beliefs, desires, patterns of behaviors, and identities. Whereas most sexual health research adheres to a deficit model, Dr. Coston’s grant will examine positive or asset-based factors, such as identity pride, community connectedness, affirmative models of consent, aspects of pleasure, positive health behaviors, and health-related outcomes such as flourishing. Dr. Coston believes the project will have a positive impact on individuals and communities and will inform future research, community programming, funding initiatives, and public health policy.
A highly regarded instructor, Dr. Coston values the liberal arts perspective they gained as an undergraduate. Prior to joining our faculty in 2016, they worked for 2 years as a visiting assistant professor at their alma mater, Albion College (Albion, Michigan). At VCU, Dr. Coston has taught a variety of courses in Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, including our introductory course, as well as undergraduate and graduate research methods. Dr. Coston has developed courses on LGBTQ+ health and wellness and played a key role in creating a new Health, Society, and Social Justice concentration for our Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies B.A. degree. Dr. Coston seeks to empower students to develop as critical thinkers and civic-minded individuals who can understand and navigate their worlds and serve as agents of social change. Deeply committed to the process of liberation and to equity, inclusion, and diversity, Dr. Coston offers opportunities for real-world learning, emphasizes interdisciplinary and community connections, and views students as collaborators and leaders in their own learning. For example, in their undergraduate course, “Resistant Bodies - Queer/Crip” in Spring 2019, Dr. Coston and their students co-created ACCESS4ALL, a university-wide symposium and interactive space about accessibility on VCU’s campus. Dr. Coston also received funding from VCU's Relevant, Experiential, and Applied Learning (REAL) Challenge Grant program to support the Queerantine Archive Project. Students working on this course-based project are documenting and archiving LGBTQIA2+ community life – with a focus on resilience, flourishing, joy, and pleasure--—during COVID-19.
Dr. Coston is a key contributor to teaching outside of the classroom, particularly in serving as a mentor and research advisor for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, Dr. Coston has developed and delivered numerous workshops and trainings for campus and community groups. For example, through VCU’s iExcel Education program, Dr. Coston has offered seminars on “Gender: Beyond the Binary” and “Disability & Neurodiversity 101.” Dr. Coston also was the primary developer of an Affordable Course Content grant (funded by the VCU Libraries) to create no-cost educational materials as an alternative to the traditional textbook in our introductory course. We now use the no-cost collection of materials in all sections of GSWS 201.
Dr. Coston has taken on leadership roles in all domains of service (departmental, university, community, and professional), particularly in furthering advancing equity, justice, and social transformation. Examples of these activities include serving on the VCU Faculty Senate, co-directing Camp Qmunity (an LGBTQ+ studies summer intensive program sponsored by VCU’s Queer Research and Advocacy [Q] Collective), serving on the board for the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood, and serving as a Council Member for the Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association.
During their relatively short time at VCU, Dr. Coston already has earned two university-level awards. In 2019, Dr. Coston was named as a Faculty Champion of Accessibility in the category of Excellence in Access, Course Content, and Inclusion. In 2020, they received the Burnside Watstein Award for their contributions to enriching the sense of community at VCU and making a significant difference in the lives of LGBTQIA faculty, staff and students.
Coston, B. E., Robinson, K. E., & Gaedecke, T.D. (in press). Disabled trans college student engagement in sex work economies: Results from the 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Disability Studies Quarterly.
Walters, S. M., Coston, B. M., Neaigus, A., Rivera, A. V., Starbuck, L., Ramirez, V., Reilly, K. H., & Braunstein, S. L. (2020). The role of sexual identity and syringe exchange programs in awareness of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among male persons who inject drugs. International Journal of Drug Policy, 77, 102671. [Link.]
Coston, B. M. (2019). Patterns of post-traumatic health care service need and access among bisexual and non-monosexual women in the U.S.: Findings from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 29, 348-364. [Link.]
Coston, B. M. (2019). ‘We need more resources’: Stories of QTPOC survival in the South. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 31, 35-52. [Link.]
Coston, B. M. (2019). Disability, sexual orientation, and the mental health outcomes of intimate partner violence: A comparative study of women in the U.S. Disability & Health Journal, 12, 164-170. [Link.]
Coston, B. M. (2017). Power and inequality: Intimate partner violence against bisexual and non-monosexual women in the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36, 381-405. [Link.]