By Britta Wellenstein, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine
The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (UW SVM) hosted the Iverson Bell Midwest Regional Diversity Summit in May, the first site to hold the event, other than the summit’s two founding colleges of veterinary medicine, Purdue and Michigan State University.
The biennial summit, named after the first person of color to serve as the vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), was first hosted at Purdue University in 1972. The summit has played a significant role in efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness in the veterinary medical profession.
Themed “From Talk to Action: Becoming a Change Agent on Your Campus,” this year’s summit brought in more than 140 students, faculty, and staff from more than 13 universities across the country to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Over the three-day conference, attendees heard from a range of speakers. Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle discussed the history and struggles of the Ho-Chunk people. Another speaker was Latonia Craig, Assistant Dean for Inclusive Excellence at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (Craig has since been named the AVMA’s first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer). Veterinary Pathologist Alejandro Larios Mora also discussed his journey to becoming a veterinarian and the barriers he faced as a minority and an 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 SVM 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 SVM, enjoyed collaborating with students from other universities.
“We felt 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-drafted action plan emphasized DEI education in community veterinary practices and academia. The faculty action plan also emphasized DEI education and cultural competency— the ability to understand, respect, and appropriately engage with people of other cultures. In addition, it addressed mental health care. Both plans will be published on the UW SVM website (vetmed.wisc.edu).
Another conference highlight was a collaborative mural designed by Milwaukee artist Tia Richardson. Richardson created the mural after speaking with UW 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 leads the summit planning and serves as Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the UW SVM, says 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 and invited all attendees to paint the mural.
Once completed this fall, the mural will be on display in the school’s Renk Learning Center and serve as a marker for improving diversity at UW-Madison and in the field of veterinary medicine.