by Amber Roudette
Amber Roudette of Richmond, Virginia, is a second-year veterinary student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is the fundraising chair and president-elect for the college's chapter of Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE). Roudette is tracking in mixed animal medicine and hopes to work with all species of animals after graduation.
Every two years, the AAVMC hosts the Iverson Bell Symposium, held in conjunction with their Annual Conference. The symposium honors the late Dr. Iverson Bell, the first African-American veterinarian to hold the position of vice-president in the American Veterinary Medical Association, who left an outstanding legacy of leadership and contributions in promoting diversity in veterinary medicine.
Four VA-MD Vet Med students—Allison Keil ('16), Tim Scott ('16), Morgan Brown ('18), and myself ('17)—and eight faculty members—Drs. Ed Monroe, Jennie Hodgson, Jacque Pelzer, Greg Daniel, Mark Freeman, Kemba Clapp, Marian Benitez, and Sabrina Barry—traveled to Washington D.C. to attend this year's conference and symposium held on March 13-15.
Over our three days at the conference, we attended numerous presentations and discussions about various diversity-related topics. This year's Iverson Bell recipient, Dr. Paige Carmichael, the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor and Professor of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, gave an energetic opening speech on the difference between diversity (the presence of individuals from different cultures), inclusivity (the acceptance of everyone’s differences), and cultural competence (the ability to interact successfully with people from a culture different from your own). We listened to other speakers from around the U.S. and other countries explain their school’s approach to inclusive practices.
We learned from Dr. Greg Wolfus, director of the Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic, about a pilot program he started at Tufts which combines veterinary students, students at a local technical school, and local pet owners in financial need. Both sets of students operate a fully functional, low cost vet clinic at the high school that serves local residents. The program sounded inspiring. We also attended a student panel and listened to ideas about how administrators, faculty, and students can work together to make a more welcoming vet school environment. Those ideas include mandatory diversity training in the curriculum, town hall meetings, and anonymous climate surveys. We also attended a mixer, where we networked with students, professors, and deans from vet schools around the country.
One of the more lively discussions of the conference was led by VA-MD Vet Med's Dr. Jacque Pelzer and Dr. Jennifer Hodgson on expanding diversity in the student selection process. They proposed expanding the traditional definition of diversity from race and ethnicity to include less obvious characteristics like socioeconomic status, gender and sexuality, ability, and even attributes and aspirations. They talked about how the use of alternative approaches, such as the multiple mini-interview (MMI), can help reduce bias, allowing underrepresented groups to display their potential and gain acceptance to veterinary school. The discussion allowed me to reflect on my own positive experiences with the MMI, as a person of color from a rural background, which are two of the numerous underrepresented groups in the field of veterinary medicine.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at the conference. I learned that diversity is not a passive event. It is not enough to simply bring along people from different cultures. We must take an active role in being inclusive of everyone’s viewpoints and experiences, and we must be competent in interacting with those from different cultures. As the future president of the Va-Md chapter of VOICE, I gained ideas from other VOICE chapters about how to create a more nurturing, inclusive environment here at Virginia Tech. The conference had a tremendously positive impact on me, and I highly encourage anyone who is interested to attend the next conference in 2017.