Despite efforts to create a diverse and inclusive environment within the veterinary profession, including veterinary colleges, there is still room for progress.
That fact became apparent during a student government meeting in February at Iowa State University where veterinary students spoke about their experiences of bias, microaggression, bigotry, racism, and prejudice in college or read testimonials from students who could not attend or feared themselves to express . The student government passed a law censoring the administration of the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Kate Alucard, a sophomore of Iowa State University’s Veterinary College, is the ISU undergraduate government senator for the Veterinary College. “When I first visited ISU CVM, I fell in love with school. Now that I am a member of the veterinary school, I realize that not everyone gets the luxury of belonging. “(Courtesy Kate Alucard)
Read the bill in its entirety, Senate Order 2019-3-011 SR, entitled “College of Veterinary Medicine Administration Censorship” (PDF).
Dr. Dan Grooms, dean of the veterinary school, said the administration was aware of the issues and had been working on them.
“There is no doubt that what they (the students) experienced is harmful to them,” he said. “We work hard to ensure that our students have positive experiences. We want to make college a more inclusive and welcoming environment for learning and working. “
He added that many of the recommendations in the resolutions have been or have been implemented. However, some need to be discussed in more detail with the university.
“It is an ongoing process and it will always take work,” said Dr. Grooms.
Five incidents were reported in the 2019-20 academic year and all incidents were investigated and, if a response could be given, responded to.
Efforts to increase diversity and inclusion on veterinary college campuses have been largely led by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The organization started its DiVersity Matters initiative in 2005, partly due to the lack of diversity within the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 report, Workforce Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 92.9% of the vets in the workforce were white – a decrease of 4.4 percentage points from five years earlier.
A study published in 2018 by the AAVMC analyzing the climate at veterinary colleges shows that one in three students heard comments from fellow students about race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion or other demographic characteristics.
Lisa Greenhill, EdD, Senior Director, Institutional Research and Diversity at AAVMC, was at the forefront of this initiative.
“While criticism is often interpreted as a stinging rebuke, we can also see this as a great opportunity for ISU to look for ways to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the college community,” said Dr. Greenhill. “AAVMC has a long history of working with its member institutions in a variety of ways, including sharing research and providing training, program development coaching, and evaluation.
“While it is really terrible for students to feel marginalized, discriminated against and unheard, the action by the Student Senate offers a unique opportunity for us to support ISU in a welcoming and supportive environment in which all students, faculties and staff can operate thrive. “
ISU is not alone. Veterinary students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico protest against the re-election of Dr. Francisco Suarez Guemes, director of the veterinary school, complained, among other things, of complaints related to his abuse of sexual harassment, as well as security issues and gender-based violence media reports.
The problems aren’t just affecting colleges, however, said Sonya G. Smith, EdD, chief diversity officer at the American Dental Education Association. Dr. Smith spoke during a session at the AAVMC Annual Conference in March, “If Hate Is a Crime: Creating an Inclusive and Safe Environment on Campus.”
“Higher education works and exists within society, and the US continues to struggle to better ensure fairness, justice, belonging, diversity and inclusion in all of our systems and in everyday interactions,” she told JAVMA News. “Colleges need to see these challenges as opportunities, not something to deal with in order to pacify students, faculties, staff and alumni.”
Smith suggests that colleges make changes through strategic planning, resource allocation, curriculum development, hiring policies, and recruiting and retention practices.
Smith said it was important to acknowledge bias, and everyone did.
“It’s not about being a good or bad person,” she said. “In our discussions, however, we need to move from intention to effect. Although a person may not intend to be hurtful or discriminatory in their actions, self-reflection and the principles of organizational behavior require that we continue to ask, “What impact has this had on the other person, this group, the organization, and even ourselves ? ? ‘”
For the ISU veterinary students who have spoken out, there is hope that the bill will allow more leadership action.
Kate Alucard, ISU Student Government Senator for the Veterinary College, said, “I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Veterinary College Administration since the criticism and even before. A senior faculty member said that inclusion and diversity under Dr. Groom’s leadership as dean has improved more than under any other dean over the past twenty years.
“However, we can sit and acknowledge the progress made and still demand better results for our students. Students are powerful. We can demand change and accountability. We shouldn’t be satisfied with tolerance. I am proud of my colleagues who have spoken out on these topics. They are fearless, they are brave, and they are the future professionals in the veterinary profession around the world. “