AVMA President Address to the Second AVMA Diversity Symposium

2005-2006

SOME MIGHT SAY THAT THE AVMA AND THE VETERINARY PROFESSION HAVE NOT BEEN COMMITTED TO DIVERSITY UNTIL RECENTLY. BUT I WOULD BEG TO DIFFER. IN FACT, WHEN I WAS IN VETERINARY COLLEGE, I RARELY SAW A FEMALE STUDENT OR PRACTITIONER. NOW, AS WE ALL KNOW, WOMEN ARE AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE VETERINARY PROFESSION, AND, WILL, ACCOUNT FOR OVER 50% OF OUR ACTIVE MEMBERS WITH THE GRADUATING CLASS OF 2007.

BUT WE ALL KNOW THAT OPENING OUR ACADEMIC DOORS TO WOMEN, WHILE ADMIRABLE, DOES NOT CONSTITUTE FULL DIVERSITY. THERE ARE MANY OTHERS WHO ARE UNDER REPRESENTED IN OUR PROFESSION AND WHO MUST BE INCLUDED IF WE ARE TO BE TRULY DIVERSIFIED.

DON'T GET ME WRONG. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT DIVERSITY FOR DIVERSITY'S SAKE. I AM TALKING ABOUT EMBRACING DIVERSITY IN ORDER TO MAKE US MORE RESPONSIVE TO THE CHANGING NEEDS OF OUR CLIENTS AND THE COMMUNITIES WE SERVE, AND MORE UNDERSTANDING AND WILLING TO UTILIZE THE UNIQUE CONTRIBUTIONS OF ALL OUR EMPLOYEES AND POTENTIAL COLLEAGUES.

HURRICANE KATRINA BLEW AWAY THE MYTH THAT PEOPLE OF COLOR DON'T OWN PETS OR CARE ABOUT THEM. WE WATCHED IN HORROR AS MANY REFUSED TO LEAVE A BELOVED PET BEHIND ... RISKING THEIR OWN LIVES IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THEIR ANIMALS WERE SAFE.

AT THE SAME TIME, WE WATCHED A BEAUTIFUL MOSAIC OF VOLUNTEERS FROM EVERY SOCIO-ECONOMIC BACKGROUND AND CIRCUMSTANCE TAKE TIME FROM THEIR JOBS AND THEIR LIVES TO HELP RESCUE ANIMALS. WE WERE IN AWE OF THEIR SACRIFICES AND THEIR DEDICATION.

WE WILL NOT FORGET WHAT WE WITNESSED AND WE WILL TAKE THAT EXPERIENCE TO THE NEXT LEVEL AS WE BEGIN TO HELP THE UNDER REPRESENTED FIND A PLACE IN OUR PROFESSION.

AS YOU ARE WELL AWARE, IN NOVEMBER, 2004 THE EXECUTIVE BOARD ADOPTED A COMPREHENSIVE DIVERSITY POLICY THAT UNDERSCORES THE AVMA'S COMMITMENT TO MEETING DIVERSITY STANDARDS IN ORDER TO BETTER SERVE ANIMALS AND THE PUBLIC.

SINCE THAT TIME, THE AVMA HAS SPONSORED A DIVERSITY TASK FORCE, CHAIRED BY DR. LARRY KORNEGAY, A MEMBER OF AVMA'S EXECUTIVE BOARD, ALONG WITH SIX OTHER VOLUNTEER LEADERS WHO REPRESENT A BROAD ARRAY OF EXPERIENCES AND EXPERTISE.

THAT TASK FORCE HAS ALREADY MET TWICE AND WILL HOLD ONE MORE MEETING BEFORE MAKING ITS FINAL REPORT TO THE AVMA EXECUTIVE BOARD. I LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS.

MEANWHILE, IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR, THE AVMA BEGAN TO COLLECT DATA ON ETHNICITY OF ITS MEMBERS VIA THE REVISED MEMBER INFORMATION UPDATE FORM. WHILE WE USE TO CONSIDER THIS TYPE OF DATA COLLECTION INVASIVE, WE NOW REALIZE THAT WE WERE NOT DOING OURSELVES ANY FAVOR. WE WERE MISSING CRITICAL INFORMATION THAT COULD LEAD TO DIFFERENT PATHS FOR RECRUITING TOMORROW'S VETERINARIANS. THAT GAP HAS NOW BEEN CLOSED AND, WITH THIS MEMBERSHIP YEAR, WILL BEGIN TO YIELD THE TYPE OF INFORMATION WE NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO ADEQUATELY FILL OUR RANKS WITH THE MOST DIVERSE WORKFORCE POSSIBLE.

I CONGRATULATE THE TASK FORCE. OF ALL THE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS BEING CONSIDERED BY OUR VOLUNTEER LEADERS, NONE IS MORE IMPORTANT OR MORE CHALLENGING THAN DIVERSITY.

I CONGRATULATE THE EXECUTIVE BOARD FOR EMBRACING DIVERSITY AND SUPPORTING EFFORTS TO EXPLORE WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN MEET THE CHALLENGES OF DIVERSITY WITHOUT COMPROMISING OUR HIGH STANDARDS.

AND MOST OF ALL, I COMMEND ALL OF YOU. FOR ATTENDING THIS SYMPOSIUM AND GIVING DIVERSITY THE HIGH PRIORITY IT DESERVES ON YOUR PERSONAL AGENDA. A TASK FORCE ALONE IS NOT GOING TO ACCOMPLISH SUCH A LOFTY GOAL. IT'S GOING TO TAKE EACH OF US, TAKING SMALL BUT FOCUSED STEPS, TO ENSURE THAT OUR DIVERSITY JOURNEY IS SUCCESSFUL.

THIS YEAR, WE SAW THE PASSING OF ROSA PARKS AND CORETTA SCOTT KING. I'M SURE THAT, IN THE BEGINNING, THEY TOOK WHAT THEY CONSIDERED SMALL STEPS. BUT LOOK AT WHERE IT LED! THEIR PASSING REMINDS US THAT GREAT THINGS CAN COME FROM INDIVIDUAL STEPS. THAT, WHILE THE JOURNEY MAY BE ROCKY AT TIMES, STRIVING FOR DIVERSITY CAN AND WILL RESULT IN UNITY.

LAMAR ALEXANDER, THE SENATOR FROM TENNESSEE, ONCE SAID, "WE ARE THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THAT HAS TAKEN PEOPLE FROM SO MANY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS -- WHICH IS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT BY ITSELF. BUT AN EVEN GREATER ACHIEVEMENT IS THAT WE HAVE TURNED ALL OF THAT VARIETY AND DIVERSITY INTO UNITY."

UNITY HAS BEEN THE THEME OF MY PRESIDENCY. IN THE PAST YEAR, I HAVE USED EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO LAUD THE VIRTUES OF REMAINING STRONG BY REMAINING UNITED. I URGE YOU TO DO THE SAME AS YOU ATTEND THIS MARVELOUS MEETING. AS YOU GO FORWARD, LOOK FOR WHAT WE HAVE IN COMMON, NOT THAT WHICH MAKES US DIFFERENT. LOOK FOR WHAT MAKES EACH OF US UNIQUE, NOT THAT WHICH MAKES US STRANGERS. LOOK FOR WHAT WILL MAKE US MORE INCLUSIVE, NOT THAT WHICH WILL FRAGMENT US. LOOK FOR THE GOOD, THE ENRICHING AND THE PROMISING...AND I PROMISE THAT YOU WILL REACH YOUR GOAL. THANK YOU.