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February 15, 2021

Veterinary leaders discuss how to combat racism, be an ally

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Lisa Greenhill, EdD
Lisa Greenhill, EdD

Two sessions during the 2021 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, held Jan. 7-9, focused on tools for being an active ally to those who are racially or ethnically underrepresented in veterinary medicine and issues experienced by people in that group.

Lisa Greenhill, EdD, senior director for institutional research and diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Latonia Craig, EdD, assistant dean for inclusive excellence at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, talked to attendees about what allyship looks like during the session “Allyship for Transformational Leaders” on Jan. 8.

“Why is it important to think about allyship in terms of leadership? It is about how you activate and inspire your team,” Dr. Greenhill said. “We say there is no ‘I’ in team, but actually, there are a lot of identities that are a part of the team. That is what makes a team strong. That diversity is really beneficial to the overall team.”

Dr. Greenhill said leadership styles differ, but it is important to include allyship because it is how you inspire, advocate for, and protect your team.

“Radical honesty is imperative in allyship,” Dr. Greenhill said. “You have to be willing to be vulnerable. You’ve got to put yourself out there. If you’re going to leverage your power and privilege to benefit marginalized folks, you have to be willing to lay it on the line.”

Dr. Craig said being an active ally also includes being empathetic.

“It requires you to try to understand where that person is coming from even if you don’t have that lived experience,” Dr. Craig said.

Drs. Greenhill and Craig asked participants to answer the following questions after the session:

  • What are your core values?
  • What decisions have you made in your organization that reflect those values?
  • How would you describe the culture of your organization?
  • What are the gaps between your core values and the current culture of your organization?
  • What do you need to do to bridge the gap in pursuit of being a transformational leader?

“You have to be in this for the long haul,” Dr. Greenhill said. “Allyship expires in the next breath. You must live it. It is an action. You have to be committed, and it is a daily practice. You are either living your values or not.”

Dr. Allen Cannedy, director for diversity and multicultural affairs at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, asked why racism exists in veterinary medicine during the session “Combating Racism in Veterinary Medicine” on Jan. 9.

“For some, it is one of those mythical things that doesn’t exist in their minds, and for those of us who see it and experience it, it is real. … As leaders, hopefully, you all believe it is real and it is affecting our profession, just as it does our society and our world.”

Dr. Cannedy, who is Black, discussed instances when he experienced racism within the profession, including trying to figure out whether clients who have Confederate flags would accept having him work on their animals.

“Racism is a tool that keeps prejudice and discrimination active and in place,” he said.

Dr. Cannedy discussed the following examples of racist behaviors and phrases:

  • Someone stating that their animal does not like Black people.
  • Intentionally mispronouncing someone’s name.
  • Saying things such as “When I look at you, I don’t see color” or “All lives matter.”
  • Using racial slurs.
  • Thinking people are dangerous on the basis of race or ethnicity.
  • Offering someone substandard service options on the basis of appearance.
  • Believing minorities dislike animals.

“Speak up when you hear them, and don’t use them,” Dr. Cannedy said. “Try to support, understand, and appreciate when we say these things, (they) are burdens that will shorten our lifespan and shorten our longevity within the profession. Help us out. We have to have our allies and you all as leaders to support us in these challenges we face.”

Dr. Allen Cannedy recommends the books “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit” by Mary-Frances Winter.


The AVMA launched its Brave Space Certificate Program in February. The seven-module program teaches participants how to create healthier, safer, and more-inclusive veterinary teams and practices. The certificate program can be found on AVMA Axon.