Campus climate dominated much of the discussion at this year's Iverson Bell Symposium (see story), and the consensus was that the first step in reaching an inclusive environment for underrepresented groups at veterinary schools and colleges is to conduct a climate survey.
The AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges launched such a survey in mid-April (see JAVMA, Aug. 1, 2010). It is the first study of its kind to be carried out at all 28 U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine.
Participation in the survey is voluntary and limited to veterinary students; however, the three schools with the highest response rates will each receive $500 to support their student chapter of the AVMA.
"We want to know where they're from, their attitudes toward people different from them, their perceptions, the activities they participate in, the activities colleges do to promote diversity, and demographic information," said Dr. K. Paige Carmichael, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She and Lisa Greenhill, AAVMC associate executive director for institutional research and diversity, are co-investigators for the study.
Lisa Greenhill and Dr. K. Paige Carmichael are co-investigators of a climate survey intended for U.S. veterinary students.
A parallel climate survey for faculty, staff, and administrators will be conducted concurrently; it was developed by Suzie Kovacs and Dr. Phillip D. Nelson, both of Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine. The two surveys are being administered separately but have some shared items so a few direct comparisons can be made.
The student survey is being conducted online and consists of 50 qualitative and quantitative questions. One question, for example, asks students to indicate whether they have ever felt negatively discriminated against on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, or social class.
All responses will be kept confidential; only summary information will be publicly reported. Survey results will likely be released at the AAVMC Annual Conference in March 2012. Leaders at each institution also will receive a raw data file with responses specific to their institution.
The goals of the climate survey are to develop comprehensive national data regarding veterinary students' perceptions of comfort with respect to various forms of personal differences, perceptions concerning tolerance of discriminatory behavior at their school or college, and perceptions of supportivenesss.
Using those data, the AAVMC hopes to develop enhanced national diversity programming, guidance on best practices for improving academic environments at AAVMC member institutions, and strategies to enhance retention of a diverse veterinary student body.
Or, Dr. Carmichael puts it this way: "Collaborative use of the collective and individual results of the survey to enact positive change in the college climate."
For the survey to be successful, buy-in is needed from deans and associate deans to make sure everyone takes the surveys and understands their importance, Dr. Carmichael said.
The long-term vision for the project is to conduct a climate survey every four years, to see whether there's any shift at the institutions, Greenhill said.
Only a handful of attempts to quantify campus climate at veterinary institutions have taken place to date.
Oregon State University's ad hoc diversity committee performed two climate surveys in 2009 and 2010. North Carolina State University conducted a campus-wide climate survey in 2004. Of the 300 veterinary students who responded, 95 percent said they understood the value and concepts of diversity in the workplace, yet more than 50 percent thought the college had adequately achieved diversity. At that time, fewer than 3 percent of veterinary students were nonwhite.
Greenhill, Dr. Nelson, and Dr. Ronnie G. Elmore, associate dean for academic affairs and admissions at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, conducted a national survey a few years ago that touched on three major areas: college and university environment and culture, faculty and curriculum, and recruitment and retention of veterinary students from underrepresented minorities. The results were published in the article "Racial, Cultural, and Ethnic Diversity within U.S. Veterinary Colleges" (JVME 2007;34:74-78).
The study's authors found results similar to those of the NC State survey: Respondents thought their veterinary schools were more racially diverse than they actually were. In addition, the results demonstrated that diversity training for faculty and staff is not provided in about half the institutions and that most are minimally engaged in recruiting underrepresented minority students.
"Overall, the results of this survey indicate that racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity issues are not a priority for most faculty members at most colleges of veterinary medicine within the United States," according to the article.
The idea for this most recent climate survey grew out of the second Southeastern Veterinary Student DiVersity Matters Symposium at the University of Georgia in February 2010.
At this year's Iverson Bell Symposium, Greenhill was asked what happens if the results from the AVMA-AAVMC climate survey show there isn't any discrimination on the participating campuses.
She responded, "I think aspirationally that would be wonderful, and I'd love to have that issue. Would that mean our work is done? No. It would mean we could start talking about what we're doing right and if those practices were sustainable and what brought us to that point. We'd be able to have more informed discussions of best practices and what brought us there," Greenhill said.
When asked whether she believes the climate at every school is fine, Greenhill said, "I would hope to be able to believe it ... but my anecdotal data doesn't support that at this time."