The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine hosted the Iverson Bell Midwest Regional Diversity Summit on May 20-22, after a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The biennial summit, named after the first person of color to serve as the vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, was first hosted at Purdue University in 1972.
Through the leadership of the Purdue University and Michigan State University colleges of veterinary medicine, the Iverson Bell Midwest Regional Diversity Summit has played a significant role in efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness in the veterinary medical profession. The recently culminated event at UW-Madison was the first time a site other than Purdue or Michigan State hosted the regional summit.
This year’s theme, From Talk to Action: Becoming a Change Agent on Your Campus, brought in over 140 students, faculty and staff from more than 13 universities across the country, who joined at Wisconsin to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Over the three-day conference, held in Dejope Hall on the UW-Madison campus, attendees heard from a range of speakers. These included Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle discussing the history and struggles of the Ho-Chunk people, and Latonia Craig, who is developing new DEI programs as assistant dean for inclusive excellence at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and striving to create a “sense of belonging” in veterinary medicine.
“Only by identifying these barriers can we work to break them down to make veterinary medicine more accessible to all.” -Summit participant Liz Jacka DVM’10
Alejandro Larios Mora, a veterinary pathologist, spoke more directly on his journey to becoming a veterinarian and the barriers he faced as a minority and immigrant. “Only by identifying these barriers can we work to break them down to make veterinary medicine more accessible to all,” says Liz Jacka DVM’10, a lecturer with the UW School of Veterinary Medicine who attended the summit.
Outside of the lectures, attendees created action plans to promote DEI in veterinary medicine and inspire action beyond the summit. Lisa Kim DVMx’24, a veterinary medical student at UW, enjoyed collaborating with students from other universities.
“We felt a lot of camaraderie talking about the ways that we, as students, have pushed DEI efforts at our respective schools. It was also a great perspective to hear what other schools were doing and compare the things we have seen,” she says.
The student action plan resulting from the summit emphasized DEI education, both in community veterinary practices and academia. Examples of such initiatives would involve working with state veterinary medical associations to make DEI education a requirement in continuing education. Participants also noted in their plan that DEI education should not be limited to new student or employee orientation but continued throughout the year for all levels of students and staff.
“Let’s make more of an effort to truly listen to the concerns and needs of marginalized groups. Let us use our positions of privilege to empower and uplift them,” Kim says, reflecting on the action plan and other takeaways from the event.
The faculty action plan emphasized DEI education and cultural competency – the ability to understand, respect and appropriately engage with people of other cultures. It also addressed caring for mental health, noting “you can’t care for others if you can’t care for yourself.”
Both action plans will be published on the UW School of Veterinary Medicine website in the coming weeks.
Another major highlight of the conference was a collaborative mural designed by Milwaukee artist Tia Richardson. Richardson created the mural after speaking with SVM students, faculty and staff this spring about the challenges and history of the school and veterinary medicine, and the path going forward. Richard Barajas, who led the summit planning and serves as assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, said the mural is designed to “build community with the school and diversify the representation on the walls of the building.”
At the summit, Richardson emphasized the power of Healing through Art, as her keynote lecture was entitled, and invited all attendees to paint the mural.
“Many of us were moved by Richardson’s ability to bring people together in a way where all are equal,” Jacka says. “Through her art, she creates a space for all members of a community to come together to work toward the same goal.”
Once completed this fall, the mural will be on display next to the Renk Learning Center in UW’s School of Veterinary Medicine and serve as a marker for improving diversity not only at UW-Madison, but for the field of veterinary medicine as a whole.