We thought it appropriate here at Broad Spectrum VSA to ask some of our student leaders what they thought about the survey. Here is what some of us had to say:
Thoughts/reaction to Climate Survey findings?
Sonia Fang, Western University of Health Sciences class of 2013
I am excited that this was done, and I’m glad we got such high response rates. I think it’s important, for any organization, to reflect on the demographics within their organization and whether or not that reflects the population they intend to serve. I am glad to see people interested in this topic, if not for the sake of knowledge and understanding that there is need for diversity, than at least to know that as a business, the veterinary field needs to be adaptable to change.
Nikki Wright, University of Pennsylvania class of 2014
At the time of the survey release, even before there was any data available, this study forced us to reflect on our personal feelings about diversity and community’s cultural climate. This alone was a powerful experience for people who are privileged enough not to have to face the existence of these issues in their daily lives. Many students and veterinarians have expressed that they are surprised that this data did not already exist. Does this reflect an incorrect assumption by our peers that diversity is a non-issue, or perhaps that it is such an important issue that there must already be extensive time and effort being put toward this end. The most profound result of this data is that this is the first time that we’ve been able to point to empirical evidence to support the existence of these groups and thereby highlight their needs. The data demonstrate that there ARE veterinary students who identify as racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, and disabled. Moreover, I have met a few students that still do not feel safe being out at their veterinary school. This is unacceptable. I hope that the schools will use this data to understand the composition of their student body and actively make changes to better serve their needs. I would love to see this evolve into the type of thing that prospective students know that they can ask for when trying to choose a school.
Arturo Otamendi, Louisiana State University class of 2014
I am very grateful for the AAVMC and this wonderful survey that brings light to many issues and topics that many people are not comfortable discussing. I believe the more we talk about topics such as sexual orientation and sexual identity, the more people will feel comfortable about it. Fear only comes from ignorance, and the more people know about the LGBTQ community, the less they will have a tendency to fear this unknown. I am very thankful to live in a time when I can be open about my sexuality and not feel concerned for my safety, but there is always work to be done.
Did any particular finding concern you, raise questions, or spark your interest?
I was excited to see that there were a relatively large number of LGBTQQIA students, though saddened to see that there was ambivalence towards us, though that is to be expected. I did think it was very interesting that people of color and LGBTQQIA students (not mutually exclusive categories) were more likely to hear homophobic or racist comments. I think this will need to be evaluated carefully. In my opinion, and from my lived experience, this is likely due to the fact that those most impacted by marginalization will be better able to spot instances of discrimination when it happens, while those who are not marginalized in those ways are apt to either miss it or ignore it. For example, when I hear “that’s so gay,” that triggers something in me that might not be triggered in someone straight. A straight person might not know what it’s like for me to hear someone use “gay” as a term meaning “stupid,” or what it means for me to hear it on a daily basis. Someone who is not marginalized in these ways might not know how subtle bigotry or subtle racism manifests, or what a microaggression even is, and what that can do to a person, especially a person who is dealing with intersecting identities of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Another example: when people make jokes at the expense of gender identity, or when they intentionally misgender others as part of a joke, that might trigger very different experiences in someone who is aware of misogyny, transphobia, transmisogyny, or sexism and someone who is not.
There is an article I like to reference when I encounter situations like this: http://www.racialicious.com/2008/04/16/racism-fatigue/. It’s a piece on a fabulous blog about addressing the subtle to-not-so subtle instances of racism. In this instance, the article references a Vogue cover with LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen that generated a lot of controversy. I love this part:
“And it can be especially important to talk about the subtle things, because that’s where privilege reveals itself most clearly. Any white person who’s neither an idiot nor an asshole can see and deplore the racism in, say, this image. But we can’t all see it in the Vogue cover. So when we start talking about the Vogue cover as part of a long tradition of racist imagery that casts African-American men as aggressive apes, we get a much more useful conversation going. Instead of just a bunch of white liberals saying, “That’s horrible!” and a bunch of white supremacists saying, “No, it’s right on!” we get to see all the grey areas of privilege brought out in the open: those of us who try to be anti-racist and educate ourselves accordingly but still missed the racism there until it was pointed out to us; those of us who sorta see it once it’s pointed out but still think people are making a mountain out of a molehill; and most importantly, those of us who missed it in the first place and, on the basis of that, continue to insist it is not there.”
In a similar vein, I also thought it was interesting that there were people who felt the schools were being “too sensitive.” I generally think being sensitive to issues where people feel marginalized or misunderstood—I never think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a bad thing when people don’t analyze what they’re saying carefully. I don’t think that an institution could be too sensitive, especially since the default is often being oblivious, especially to matters pertaining to diversity.
The fact that 6.5% of students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or questioning, and 0.5% identified as transgendered substantiates the existence of this population in the schools. Many people expressed their feeling that this number may be under-representative of the actual population, and this is furthered by the observation that 81% of students reported knowledge of out faculty, staff, or students. Another issue that showed up in the data was the existence of lingering ambivalence about LGBTQ issues and religion. I am not sure what to make of it, but I think it is clear that the school administrations and students need to be addressing this by providing resources for students, faculty and staff, and encouraging constructive dialogue around these issues.
12% identified as having an impairment or disability (this included vision, learning, and hearing). Do students who identify as having a disability feel that they have access to the resources that they need?
Although there were not many students that reported being harassed themselves, there were an alarming proportion of students (14%) that reported seeing others being harassed and 76% of students reported knowing of harassment that occurs on their campus. What’s more, it is mainly students doing the harassing. Also troublesome was the observation that 20-30% of racial/ethnic minorities and LGBTQ students reported hearing homophobic or racist comments. This was a lot higher than the percentage of students in general that reported hearing these remarks. It is not clear what we should take from this, but as Ms. Greenhill announced during her presentation, we are excited about looking into this further in the form of a qualitative study.
Although the number is low, it is extremely disappointing and worrisome that 2.4% of students reported having no supportive group of friends or acquaintances on campus.
One topic that caught my attention from this survey was that there was still some ambivalence towards LGBTQ topics. I believe many people now a days want to seem like they are very open and understanding of all races, religions, and sexual orientations, but I have noticed that though they show their approval on the surface, their true feelings and thoughts contradict that. People now a days don’t want anyone to think they have ambivalence toward their LGBT classmates, but deep down there are some feelings that will take a long time to erase from peoples minds.
Would you say they’re representative of your experiences at your school?
I would say that is pretty representative. I see the misuse of the words “retarded” or “gay” on a daily basis at school and at work, which is disappointing. I haven’t ever been exposed to blatantly racist comments, but I have seen students tokenized and asked to speak as representatives to their race. In running different organizations that relate to the LGBT community, I have personally seen ambivalence to my organization, sometimes subtle, sometimes institutional, and sometimes blatant. And I would say that while our student body and faculty are generally pretty careful to not make bigoted or sexist remarks, there is sometimes an underlying sense of subtle bigotry and chauvinism. And there are instances where I know a professor won’t say anything to me, but might mention to other professors that they don’t understand or don’t feel comfortable with other professors’ level of involvement/support with our LGBT groups.
yes - I would say that the reported proportions loosely reflect the population at Penn Vet. In general I think that we are very fortunate at Penn because we have a variety of resources and support for minority students and LGBTQ students through the university and because we are located in such a metropolitan environment with access to further support. We have an active chapter of Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity as well as a relatively large LGBTQ&A group, and there are definitely out faculty members, staff, and students.
I would say that these findings are accurate of my school. Many people are very open minded and positive about me and our other gay and lesbian classmates. I still know of gay and lesbian students who are too scared to be out because of how it could affect their education and/or ability to attain a job after graduation. However, even though students seem to be very comfortable with their classmates about what they do, they don’t necessarily want to hear about it or discuss topics that concern LGBTQ in the community. I think we need to work harder and be more proactive about starting a dialogue in which people are comfortable discussing issues and problems that concern the LGBTQ community.
Talk about how the LGBT vet student community is becoming organized?
I think in the last 3-4 years, there has been a lot of organizing, and I’ve been very privileged to be part of it, through Lambda and Friends at WesternU and through my extensive involvement with Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association. I think we’re just beginning to find our voice and figure out how to best position our organizations, and to figure out how to make our organizations sustainable. I think there is also a push towards short-term goals, such documenting what schools are doing every other month, as well as long-term goals such as influencing non-discrimination policies, having more resources for students, both in terms of ethnic and LGBT diversity, as well as documenting the oral histories of LGBT veterinarians.
It started independently with small LGBTQ&A chapters, sometimes called LGVMA student chapters, springing up at a few schools (Cornell, Penn, Davis, Wisconsin, etc). Additionally, some schools have a strong VOICE chapter that serves the LGBTQ community as well and fosters the growing ally involvement in LGBTQ issues. The recent organization into a national organization, Broad Spectrum, has been heavily dependent on leadership and outreach efforts by the LGVMA and concurrent involvement with VOICE.
Once I learned about Broad Spectrum, which is the national organization for veterinary students in the LGBTQ community and allies, I immediately was interested in becoming more involved. As a pre-veterinary student, I contemplated hiding my sexuality because I was unsure if this would affect my chances of getting into vet school or perhaps getting a job after vet school. I didn’t have anyone to talk to or someone who had gone through the same things that I would be going through. This made being OUT at my school a lot more challenging. Broad Spectrum is here now for any veterinary and even pre veterinary students to be able to communicate with other students in the LGBTQ community and be able to relate to each other. I believe that unity is going to be a big aspect of getting LGBTQ students comfortable in being open at their school and to get rid of the fear of not being able to get a job, internship, or a residency after veterinary school.
What is the goal of these [diversity AND LGBTQ] efforts?
I think the obvious goal is to make these institutions and this profession more inclusive. I talked to someone recently who expressed interest in why LGBT organizations even existed, because it seemed to be getting better. To that, I say we still need these organizations. It’s getting better, yes, to some extent, because society is changing and because LGBT and allies alike are pushing towards change. But until there isn’t rampant discrimination of people of color, LGBT people, those with disabilities, etc. (recognizing these are not mutually exclusive groups), it is still important for us to be aware of our demographics, and it is still important for there to be groups like Lambda and like Broad Spectrum to provide community and support, especially those who would otherwise not have those resources. I would hope that these efforts also make people aware of the privileges they carry and how they might intentionally or unintentionally marginalize other people. This extends to marginalized communities in themselves. For example, it is clear to many that LGBT groups are marginalized in straight communities, but often LGB people do not evaluate how their actions might marginalize those on the transgender spectrum. Or it might not be clear to white LGBT people that sometimes how they talk or act can feel really marginalizing to people of color, especially LGBT people of color. Overall, I just hope these efforts get people to think critically, and to re-evaluate how they act and treat other people.
Here are some helpful resources:
General resources on how privilege operates (this can come in many forms including homophobia, heterosexism, cissexism, racism, sexism, etc):
- Derailing for Dummies: derailingfordummies.com A satirical site that is VERY spot on in privilege and how we derail conversations when we become uncomfortable with our privilege.
- Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (relates to White Privilege): http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf
- Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack II (relates to Straight Privilege): http://www.cs.earlham.edu/~hyrax/personal/files/student_res/straightprivilege.htm
- 30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2011/11/list-of-cisgender-privileges/
- Adult Privilege Checklist: http://shutupsitdown.co.uk/2009/11/16/the-adult-privilege-checklist/, at the bottom of this there are more links to other lists re: privilege
First and foremost, the veterinary population should reflect national population demographics.
The main reasons that I feel that diversity should be a priority: The veterinary community must be an inclusive one. This is true in terms of maximizing our relationships with our peers, our clients, and the global community. It is also true within the veterinary schools. We must foster the creation of a comfortable and welcoming environment for all, and in particular those students that identify as minorities. Vet school is already hard enough!
With that being said I understand that diversification of the profession is not the top priority for most. As a SAVMA delegate I represent the Penn Vet community in the SAVMA House of Delegates and serve as the chair of the Integrative Communication and Diversity Committee. It is clear that the main concern of late is economics. The veterinary student population is in trouble for a number of reasons including but not limited to mitigating the massive amounts of debt that they are acquiring, and finding available jobs after graduating in the context of market with diminishing employment opportunities and stagnant salaries. I want to emphasize that the AVMA and AAVMC are doing a great job of trying to understand how they can best serve the students in this capacity. Therefore, I think that it is important to highlight the value of diversity in terms that are relevant to the economics of the profession as Dr. Malcolm Kram discussed in his presentation about inclusiveness. This is especially important when considering things like cultivating the economic value of the profession.
Diversity will contribute to the valuation of the profession. There is a consensus among many that we must take charge of broadening society’s view of the profession. In particular, we need to champion the goals of the One Health Initiative, and in doing so help to publicize the non-traditional roles that veterinarians serve, demonstrating that we are an asset and should be consulted on issues ranging from human global public health, urban planning, development, and global food production. Also implicit in the One Health movement is the idea of accessibility. We need to make veterinary medicine and public health education accessible to everyone, and emphasize the importance of preventative animal health in all aspects of human health.
ArturoOur goal is to have a central location where LGBTQ students can contact for advice and help on anything they might need. We aim to be an information center for students who are interested in starting an LGBTQ club at their school, pre-veterinary students who have questions about the application process and how their sexuality might be viewed in veterinary school, and also a link to information from practicing veterinarians who are LGBTQ and have gone through the whole process already. We aim to unify the student community in order to have a more open and friendly environment. My hope is that one day, anyone who is LGBTQ will be comfortable to be completely open and feel safe and secure and loved in their veterinary college.