Problematic language still a factor on veterinary campuses

Second climate survey shows students want more diversity, inclusion programming
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A second study by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges assessing the social climate at veterinary colleges shows some improvement since the first one, done in 2011. "However, the level of sexist, racist, homophobic discourse remains substantial among students, and appears to have increased since the previous study," according to a May AAVMC newsletter announcing the results.

Students working in a library

For the present study, over 40 percent of students reported hearing sexist comments from fellow students, and one in three reported hearing such language from veterinary faculty.

One in three reported hearing stereotypical comments from fellow students related to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or other demographic characteristics.

Nearly 20 percent reported feeling as though fellow students were purposefully excluding them from veterinary college life.

Overall, a reduction was seen in problematic language from faculty, but that was offset by problematic student-to-student engagement.

Specifically, perspectives differed on whether veterinary colleges are providing enough support to LGBTQ students and students with disabilities, and on how faculty and staff who are underrepresented in veterinary medicine are hired, with male students and faculty more likely to report that veterinary colleges are fair and supportive of these minority populations.

Other key study results include the following findings:

  • Statistical differences no longer exist across student groups in having mentor and confidant relationships with faculty and staff.
  • Students appear to desire more diversity and inclusion programming.
  • Students are increasingly comfortable with student diversity; however, distinct feelings of marginalization remain.
  • Students report feeling "very comfortable" with differences, including racial, sexual orientation, and religious differences. However, students who identified as racial, sexual orientation, or religious minorities were more likely to report less comfort with student colleagues than were students in the respective dominant groups.

The AAVMC noted that more than half of students reported having a faculty or staff confidant within the veterinary college. "Confidants provided a safe place to talk about issues, took a special interest in the student and encouraged academic development, and helped enhance community involvement and relationships," the association wrote. The newsletter also noted institutional programming and university-level diversity initiatives have contributed toward the improvements seen since the last survey.

The earlier 2011 study (J Vet Med Educ 2014;41:111-121) found nearly one-third of racially or ethnically underrepresented veterinary medical students reported hearing racist comments from their student colleagues occasionally to very frequently. Over 20 percent of LGBTQ students reported hearing homophobic comments from students occasionally to very frequently. Students were more likely than college faculty and staff to make comments about race and sexuality.

Further, this earlier survey showed that veterinary students were more likely to experience negative diversity-related experiences at the hands of their student peers than from any other group on campus. The second highest incidence of sexist comments came from faculty. Just over 21 percent of female students and 23 percent of transgender students said that they heard faculty making sexist comments occasionally to very frequently.

Both studies examined student, faculty, intern/resident, staff, and administrator perspectives regarding the inclusion and comfort levels of students from underrepresented groups, including racial and ethnic minorities, those with impairments or disabilities, and LGBTQ students. The studies were designed to provide a more extensive "snapshot" of each unique population's climate as part of the AAVMC's DiVersity Matters Initiative.

A total of 2,671 students from 28 schools participated in the more recent study. There was a student response rate of 20.9 percent and a faculty response rate of 17.5 percent.

Among students, more than 80 percent of respondents identify as women, 14.4 percent identify as LGBTQ, 11.8 percent report having a disability, and nearly 5 percent report having a learning disability. Nearly two-thirds are from the suburbs, 21.7 percent received a Pell grant (a proxy for low-income students), and over half identify as Christian.

Among faculty, 90.8 percent are white, 10.4 percent identify as sexual minorities, half identify as Christian, and 53.8 percent identify as women, 45 percent as men, and 0.4 percent as nonbinary.

Nationally aggregated findings will be presented next year, culminating in an article that will appear in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

"We're making some progress, but there's still a lot to do. This data will help us develop the kind of programs that will lead to constructive social change and eventually, more supportive academic climates within all AAVMC member institutions," said AAVMC senior director for institutional research and diversity Lisa Greenhill, EdD, in the release. She worked with Dr. Lacheryl Ball, a recent graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine on the study.

Related JAVMA content:

Campaign pushes for profession to recognize third gender option (June 1, 2018)

AAVMC continues to move the needle on diversity (May 1, 2015)