Veterinary Leadership Experience
On January 9, WVLDI President Kimberly-Ann Therrien convened a well-attended networking event at the AVMA’s annual Veterinary Leadership Conference (VLC). With over 80 participants, there were almost 20% students with great WVLDI, AMVA, and general attendee participation. Dr. Kratt provided some inspiring introductory remarks highlighting the partnership between WVLDI and the AVMA, especially the importance of WVLDI’s help with the new Diversity Equity and Inclusion Commission.
Kim reviewed impressive accomplishments of 2020, including our new strategic plan and an outlook for what’s on tap for 2021. We broke into 12 smaller groups, each with a Board member, an AVMA leader, and both students and general attendees. The response was energetic, positive, and definitely exciting, given we couldn’t even provide breakfast! The AV experience was seamless. Something to consider ADDING to enhance or complement in-person events in the future!
Virtual Webinar: Women of Color Panel
The Strength of Solidarity: What all men and women can do to support women of color in veterinary medicine: What happens when you bring together six exceptional leaders to discuss how to support women of color in veterinary medicine? You learn about breaking barriers, overcoming insensitivity, and paving the way for change. On November 12th, the group – spanning generations and geography, holding doctorates, DVMs, board certifications, law degrees, titles like dean or provost, and a long list of “firsts” – sought to educate, influence, and issue a call to action.
In keeping with WVLDI’s mission and with a sense of urgency after the murder of George Floyd, WVLDI Treasurer and longtime Board member, Dr. Rebecca Steers, had the brainstorm to convene a panel of Women of Color (WoC) to inspire and advise women in veterinary medicine how to broaden and increase our support. She recruited other Board members, and the group got to work. In what turned out to be an inspired choice, we all agreed that WVLDI board member, Dr. Tangela Williams-Hill was the ideal moderator .and we recruited a panel that was brilliant, diverse in experience and focus, but uniform in authenticity, openness, and courage.
The panel included Dr. Tierra Price, founder of Black DVM Network, Dr. Jen Brandt, Director of Wellbeing, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiatives at AVMA, Dr. Ruby Perry, Dean of Tuskegee University, Dr. Anita Allen, Provost at University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Carolyn Self, emeritus member of the NJ State Association and the AVMA and Lyndi von Mutius, Director of Board Strategy and Operations at the Trust for Public Land (pictured below)
The group provided listeners with education on unacceptable behavior. Dr. Anita Allen, Provost, Law and Philosophy Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, shared how as a teaching assistant a white student asked, “What gives you the right to teach this class?” The others confirmed these outright challenges have morphed into comments reflective of an unwillingness to educate oneself on something as simple as learning that black people don’t all come from Africa.
They offered guidance on how to enact change based on their own experiences that required equal measures of courage, advocacy, and a determination not to fail. Dr. Ruby Perry, Dean, and Professor of Radiology at Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine said she had an unequivocal message on her journey. “You know I’m here to stay. I was born and raised in the south. In the south, I was told you didn’t have a choice. You couldn’t fail. I’m female. I’m black if you didn’t notice. You give me the access. You give me the opportunity. I was there to stay.” Her mantra was to work harder and be an advocate to everyone.
The speakers encouraged the audience to continue having difficult conversations and while they shouldn’t excuse poor behavior, approach these conversations with compassion. As Dr. Jen Brandt, Director of Wellbeing, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiatives explained, “The beliefs are abhorrent and wrong, but there may be a foundation in fear that you can understand.” Acknowledging that it’s tiring work, the group encouraged the audience not to give up, calling the fight against racism the job of all people. “It’s hard. But you don’t waiver. I got up this morning tired. But you can’t. You find yourself some energy somewhere,” Perry said.
The two-hour conversation ended with the hope to build on the work of 1960’s legal and social changes to continue the path forward. But the group wasn’t giving away free passes, acknowledging that we have a long way to go. As Perry said, “It’s human nature to question if you’re making a difference. But you can’t stay there. When you know your purpose, you get re-energized and you get back on that journey.”
Summary contributed by panel attendee, Dr. Meg Conlon.