Dr. Mia Cary (she, her, hers) specializes in leadership, teamwork and inclusivity with the purpose of activating others to thrive. Her professional experience includes leadership and education roles at the American Veterinary Medical Association, the North American Veterinary Community, Boehringer Ingelheim and Novartis Animal Health. She serves as CEO and change agent for Cary Consulting and as CEO for the Pride Veterinary Medical Community.Read Articles Written by Mia Cary
This past fall, I had the pleasure of attending the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association’s RISE conference, a two-day virtual program featuring concurrent tracks, critically relevant content and talented speakers. (RISE stands for resource, include, support and elevate.) Now, I want to share eight of the many insights and important reminders that I walked away with.
1. Consider Your ‘Why’
If you are familiar with optimist and author Simon Sinek’s work, you likely ask yourself the “why,” or purpose, of any new project or initiative you are considering. In the “Allyship and Equity in Veterinary Medicine” session with co-presenters Drs. Marie Sato Quicksall and Sohaila Jafarian, we were encouraged to avoid performative allyship by understanding and constantly re-evaluating the “why” of our allyship. For example:
- Am I spotlighting Black-owned businesses on Instagram because I want to amplify their products to help their business succeed, or am I doing so to garner more followers and likes?
- If I witness a bullying situation, do I say something because I know it is wrong or because I want to be recognized as the person who saved the day?
When we lean into our allyship, we must keep an eye on the “why.” As Dr. Jafarian reminds us, “If the group you claim to be an ally of does not claim you as an ally, then you aren’t one.”
2. Cultural Responsiveness, Not Cultural Competence
The ability to understand and respect attitudes, beliefs and values across cultures has been historically referred to as cultural competence. This term is out of favor because competence implies an endpoint. If I complete a Latinx heritage course, I should not consider it a box checked and — “Bam!” — I am culturally competent. We know it does not work that way because our learning is lifelong and ongoing.
Utilization of the phrase “cultural responsiveness” instead of “competence” is recommended by many experts, including Dr. Quicksall in her session “Culturally Responsive Care in Veterinary Medicine.” (The session should be required CE for everyone in the veterinary profession.)
Another related term referenced in this and other sessions was “cultural humility.” It incorporates recognizing our limitations so that we avoid making assumptions about unfamiliar cultures.
3. DEI Is a Mindset
The keynote session at RISE 2022 was delivered by civic-engagement expert Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, the dean of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. During her inspiring session, Dr. Soto reinforced that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) should not be siloed or a bonus add-on.
DEI infuses every aspect of our life and cannot be teased apart from other elements, such as communication or leadership. Moreover, DEI is a mindset and, as such, it is incorporated into how we approach our work, objectives and colleagues.
4. Inclusive Events Require Intentionality
A session that every event-planning organization should pay attention to was “How to Make Your Veterinary Event More Inclusive,” presented by certified veterinary technician Melody Martínez and Dr. Quicksall. They shared how the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association’s security protocol became an unfortunate necessity after several MCVMA speakers were harassed by an attendee at a veterinary conference.
Martínez and Dr. Quicksall also covered topics ranging from being intentional with vendor selection to the value of utilizing inclusive language. For example, does your keynote open with, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen”? At first glance, the statement might seem a warm way to extend a welcome, but it can be alienating for some people, including those gender non-conforming or non-binary. Inclusive events require intentionality and attention to detail.
5. Intersectionality Is Not Celebrating Differences
Much was learned during “Intersectional Identity as a Framework for Inclusive Environments,” delivered by Dr. Erika Lin-Hendel, MCVMA’s research and publications chair. Legal scholar Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 as the intersection of oppressed identities.
Intersectionality considers how different identities simultaneously affect one’s experiences. It is a framework for understanding the compounding effects of multiple oppressive environments. Allies must understand the theory of intersectionality and not dilute it as simply celebrating differences.
6. Neurodiversity Is Not a Disorder
Dr. Lin-Hendel reinforced that neurodiversity is not a disorder. Rather, neurodiversity is the reality that people experience and interact with the world around them in myriad ways. Therefore, there is not one “right” way of thinking or learning.
Several speakers reinforced the importance of understanding the difference between equality (treating everyone the same) and equity (ensuring everyone can access the resources that drive success). Equality as a strategy to produce fairness only works if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help, which is rarely the case.
A quote Dr. Lin-Hendel shared from Cara Reddy, founder of the Disabled Journalists Association, summed up the reality of equity in the realm of disability: “Most of the time, it is not a person’s disability holding them back but rather barriers such as inaccessibility and lack of accommodations.”
7. Microaggressions Are Not Micro
In the 1970s, Harvard Professor Dr. Chester Pierce coined the term “microaggression” to describe “subtle, everyday ways that Black people experience discrimination.” These can be insults, offensive remarks and biased behaviors, such as crossing to the other side of the street.
In the session “Navigating Discrimination in the Workplace,” Dr. Lin-Hendel and graduate student and scientist Melinda Trueblood-Stimpson reinforced that microaggressions are not “micro” to marginalized individuals and that the term obstructs meaningful change. Instead, many experts in the DEI field recommend utilizing the modern term “exclusionary behaviors” to describe such inappropriate and discriminatory behaviors.
8. You Cannot Self-Care Out of a Broken System
Self-care is an increasingly used well-being buzzword. Taking care of ourselves first so that we are optimally equipped to take care of others is real. However, if one is working in a toxic environment without community care, then self-care will get you only so far.
That last nugget was emphasized by Dr. Lin-Hendel, Trueblood-Stimpson and several other speakers. As Dr. Jafarian stated in a conference chat session, “You cannot self-care out of a broken system.”
What’s next is up to you. I encourage you to consider and commit to at least one next step to activate what you have read today.
Finally, I leave you with this critical question asked by Drs. Quicksall and Jafarian: “How might we see the world differently if we were to shift our focus to the lives and thoughts of those who have been devalued, marginalized and excluded?”