There are various entry points to a DEI learning journey as well as a range of short- and long-term goals. For some VMAs, there may be a wish to explore foundational concepts for common understanding and stronger interpersonal relationships. For others there may be a wish for a deeper dive into allyship and advocacy work by learning about the history of racist and oppressive systems and how they still impact society today. Journey provides a way to consider the different entry points into learning by establishing Levels 1, 2 and 3. Outlined below are sample goals for each level along with supportive resources to reinforce learning by topic area.
Learning Journey Levels
Becoming familiar with the lexicon of the DEI field is an important starting place in the journey. DEI definitions and terminology serve two important purposes:
Through the use of more precise language and meaning, identifying the strategies that will best achieve goals becomes easier.
Definitions as provided in the article “An anti-racist’s dictionary: 16 words on race, gender, and diversity you should know” by Margeurite Ward can promote impactful conversations around DEI by offering a common framework for dialogue and culturally competent care. Definitions can also prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Additionally, a shared lexicon can help create shared understanding and allows for people to enter conversations mindfully.
The use of inclusive language is critical in creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, included and respected. Inclusive language helps build a sense of community and trust by ensuring everyone is treated with dignity and impartiality. Inclusive language means making a conscious and empathetic effort to communicate in ways that put people first, avoid inflammatory phrases, use gender-neutral terminology, recognize the importance of mental health language and avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. Resources like the Gender Alphabet can be helpful for teams and VMAs in written and oral communication. Another resource is PrideVMC’s Gender Identity Bill of Rights, which serves as a minimum foundation to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices against transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals in the veterinary profession.
It’s important to remember that habits don’t change overnight. Practice and intention are needed to become more aware and accountable in all facets of life. Finally, know that it’s okay to ask questions if something is unclear.
Unconscious or implicit bias refers to the “associations that are made between different qualities and social categories such as race, gender or disability and are judgments that are made without conscious awareness.” Intentional or unintentional, bias and microaggressions hurt people from underrepresented and marginalized groups. The cumulative impact in the workplace can result in a toxic environment where people feel unheard and disrespected.
Addressing bias and working to eliminate microaggressions are critical steps towards creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace. The video clips below can prompt discussion and a deeper understanding of how bias is present in the lens through which the world is seen and experienced.
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) developed by social scientists at the University of Washington, Harvard University and the University of Virginia provides a range of cognitive response tests to raise awareness to the public about hidden biases. The IAT offers 14 tests that aim at assessing bias related to race, ability, skin tone, age, gender, sexuality, weight, religion, etc. The tests provide both valid and reliable data for a deeper understanding of the way biases may show up in both thought and behavior. These illuminating tests are free and available here.
Step into the work of allyship through meaningful action. Allyship is not a noun; one can’t proclaim one’s self an ally. Consider it a verb, meaning that allyship is something that is practiced. Being an ally means taking action to benefit someone else rather than focusing on the good one does by helping. Consider what it might mean to be an ally and follow examples of actions other allies have taken:
All the actions described above are examples of allyship. Consider which actions might feel challenging. Where are there opportunities for growth?
Amélie Lamont provides an open source starter guide to assist in becoming a more thoughtful and effective ally in her Guide to Allyship. She makes an important distinction between allyship that is “optical,” meaning for public acknowledgement versus truly supportive and authentic allyship.
Dr. Mia Cary provides a definition of performative allyship as occuring when someone from a nonmarginalized group claims alignment with and support of a marginalized group as an ally, however does so in such a way that is either not helpful or causes harm. Performative allyship usually involves the self-titled ‘ally’ receiving some kind of reward or positive impact. On social media, it can be as seemingly innocuous as a virtual pat on the back for being a ‘good person’.
One pillar of allyship is ensuring that allyship centers on the oppressed. When being a true ally, we constantly reaffirm that allyship centers on the oppressed, not the ally. Avoiding performative allyship on social media is an important part of this. For example, if you choose to highlight artists from marginalized groups on your Instagram account, check yourself and make sure you are doing it to be an ally and not to garner more “likes.” Intention matters.
References & Resources
To create an equal society, it’s important to understand how racism has affected BIPOC. Begin by exploring the historical content of racism and other systems of oppression present in the U.S. Notice and question the surrounding stories and systems that may have been foundational up until now, and consider how racism affects the lived experience of BIPOC communities. Interrupt, resist, and dismantle beliefs, norms, practices, and structures that sustain racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism and other systems of oppression. Advocate for those who are most marginalized and participate in designing new practices, structures, and systems that create greater equity.
There are myriad resources that build understanding in DEI, which can be accessed individually or within a group. Learning from and inviting discussion from BIPOC and other marginalized identity groups, including from within the veterinary medical community, further advances understanding by hearing personal experiences and perspectives.
The following are resources to access and ideas to engage in the learning journey: