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September 15, 2020

Diversity, equity, inclusion efforts approved by Board, House

AVMA seeks external expertise, explores professionwide entity to examine this issue
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The AVMA Board of Directors at its July 29 virtual meeting committed to retaining an outside diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant to help identify areas of greatest need, set priorities, and use resources most effectively. The Board of Directors also approved in concept the establishment of a profession- and industrywide commission to examine DEI issues affecting veterinary medicine.

Two days later, the AVMA House of Delegates approved a recommendation to the Board in support of the Board’s commitments to make veterinary medicine more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The move, during the regular annual session of the HOD held virtually July 30-31, caps off months of increasing interest and discussion in the veterinary profession on how to address systemic racism in light of the killings of George Floyd and other Black individuals earlier this year and the resulting protests and movement for social justice.

AVMA HOD regular annual session in Schaumburg
The AVMA House of Delegates held its regular annual session virtually July 30-31, with some AVMA leaders and staff members working behind the scenes in person at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

The recommendation asks the Board to implement the following actions:

  • Establish diversity, equity, and inclusion as the Association’s own strategic focus.
  • Retain outside DEI expertise to help identify areas of greatest need, set priorities, and use Association resources most effectively.
  • Collaborate with key stakeholders, including DEI affinity groups, among others, to establish a professionwide entity to examine and take action on DEI issues affecting the veterinary profession.
  • Provide timely and regular communications to update the HOD and members of the AVMA and Student AVMA on progress addressing DEI within the Association and in the profession.
  • Promote the AVMA’s DEI resources to AVMA and SAVMA members.

The resolution passed with 92.3% support.

Earlier, the Board had approved hiring a DEI consultant. The goal was to define the consultant’s scope of work and identify candidates by Sept. 15. The Board also approved exploring the establishment of a professionwide commission to examine DEI issues affecting the profession. A consensus on the concept is expected by Oct. 1.

The outside expert will advise the AVMA on several suggested initiatives and projects, including many raised by the DEI affinity groups, led by the Multicultural VMA. These include areas of self-assessment, accessibility for all AVMA members to join and grow within AVMA leadership, accountability and transparency, gathering and analyzing member data, expanding membership and organizational commitments, and considering additional financial and structural commitments to improve DEI in veterinary medicine.

Congressional encounter

Dr. Janet Donlin, AVMA CEO, addressed the HOD at the beginning of the session.

“This is your association, and we are committed to making sure everyone feels welcome, included, and an important part of this great profession,” she said. “Recent events have given us an opportunity to pause and reflect, to listen and to learn, and to consider what more we can do. We are committed to ensuring our profession is infused with an inclusive and diverse culture so everyone feels welcome, respected, and valued so we can best serve members, teams, communities, and clients.”

Dr. Rena Carlson, outgoing AVMA Board chair, addressed the encounter on the Capitol steps between U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a veterinarian, during which Rep. Yoho reportedly directed a sexist remark toward Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (see letters to the editor).

“We’ve heard from many AVMA members, both women and men alike, about this matter. We hear you, and we are listening.

“On Friday, July 24, the AVMA posted a statement on Facebook clearly reaffirming our values and what we stand for: that such behavior, whenever it happens, is inappropriate and unacceptable. We stressed our expectation that our members—whatever their current role may be—should demonstrate professionalism to others at all times and uphold the dignity and respect of the veterinary profession. I understand that some are not satisfied with our statement because it doesn’t directly condemn Rep. Yoho. However, we need to be clear on this as well: None of us were on those steps when this encounter occurred.

“So we’re faced with two members of Congress offering very different characterizations of what happened on the Capitol steps. In the interest of fairness and without that firm knowledge of how the interaction transpired, we find it challenging to make a specific statement about Rep. Yoho’s behavior or words.”

Dr. Carlson continued: “For many of us, this type of language is far from new. We vividly remember our own personal experiences, from small sexist comments to those that hurt us to abuses that left us harmed and forever changed. When these encounters are reported, that memory and pain returns. The language reported in the news does not reflect what we stand for. Abusive language and misogynistic behavior have no place in veterinary medicine or society as a whole. The AVMA will continue to stand by our values and reiterate that derogatory and abusive language, when it happens, undermines our progress toward gender equity.

“We must move forward together. Our profession is strong because it’s unified. What we can do together as a unified veterinary community … is to learn from this and reflect on ways we should conduct ourselves and show respect to one another. And I firmly believe this lesson applies to all of us—myself, all of you, Representative Yoho, and everyone else who represents this great profession.”

Testimonial video

Also at the HOD meeting, Dr. Douglas Kratt, incoming AVMA president, made remarks on and introduced a video put together by 10 affinity organizations with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion: the Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals, BlackDVM Network, Latinx VMA, Multicultural VMA, National Association for Black Veterinarians, Native American Veterinary Association, Pride Veterinary Medical Community, Pride Student VMC, Veterinarians as One for an Inclusive Community for Empowerment, and Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative.

The video included testimonials from some of the hundreds who had submitted experiences of discrimination in the profession. Examples include a white professor at a veterinary college showing pictures of himself posing as a Mexican and another in blackface during a lecture. The person who recounted the latter incident reported it, but nothing happened. Another example was witnessing a veterinarian in the clinic telling a difficult pet, “Don’t make me George Floyd you.”

Dr. Carol G. Ryan, Missouri delegate, said, “I think a lot of times when we hear problems like this, if we’re not involved, we think they go away, but the other option is to face it head on, and that’s what we need to do. If I don’t hear things like that, I don’t know they’re going on.”

Dr. Christina V. Tran, president of the Multicultural VMA, told JAVMA News, “The results from the AVMA HOD July 2020 session represent a significant shift in AVMA’s previous prioritization of issues involving diversity, equity, and inclusion. We hope that forward progress will continue in a timely fashion and that these sustained efforts will be appropriately supported by the AVMA and made transparent to its membership and all stakeholders. There is more work to be done, and we anticipate broad participation and active collaboration between the AVMA and the veterinary community.”