Fostering Diversity and Inclusion in a Time of Social Change

Diversity silhouetteVBS Associate Professors Christina Clarkson and Mark Rutherford are the department representatives who serve on the College of Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) Diversity and Inclusion Committee (DNIC). We had a chance to sit down and chat with them for a few minutes to learn more about  this committee, their mission, their causes, and how you could get involved.
 
What is the mission of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee?
The official mission statement of the CVM DNIC is “... to promote a dynamic and multicultural community for students, staff, faculty, and stakeholders of the CVM by organizing events and workshops, promoting self-learning, correcting systemic racism within our organization, and advocating for restorative justice.” What this means is that DNIC  members are committed to fostering a richly diverse community in which all faculty, staff, and students feel welcome, safe, and valued at the CVM. They aim to promote and help build a community of equity and inclusion, educate people, create awareness, and become a better ally. 
 
What projects/tasks is the DNIC currently undertaking?
The DNIC has currently been working on creating proper signage to commemorate Dr. B. Robert Lewis, the namesake for the VMC’s Lewis Small Animal Hospital. Dr. B. Robert Lewis was a veterinarian, a Korean War veteran, the first Black member of the St. Louis Park School Board, and Minnesota’s first African American State Senator who championed for the funding to construct this hospital building. 
 
Other activities of the DNIC promote diversity and inclusion such as Black History month, Pride month, etc. They have hosted informal gatherings with snacks and refreshments to create a space for the collegiate community to spark conversations on current issues that should be addressed or highlighting areas where there may be room for improvement.
The DNIC is taking steps toward becoming an official, constitutionalized committee with elected positions and guidelines for demonstrating active participation of its members.  Formalizing this committee will help DNIC establish membership guidelines, connect regularly with collegiate leadership and leverage funds  to support professional development opportunities for our members and our community. They would like to mobilize resources for professional development and workshops that promote diversity and inclusion, such as Implicit Bias training for faculty, students, and staff.
 
In addition to promoting diversity and inclusion, their latest task has been to assist in the hiring of a CVM Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. They hope to find someone with lived experiences who can facilitate systemic change within our community.  
 
In light of the recent protests in the Twin Cities over the murder of George Floyd and many other people who have experienced injustice due to prejudice, how important is it to have conversations in the College about diversity and inclusion?
Since the murder of George Floyd, DNIC members have been called to action to promote anti-racism. Conversations are a place to start, but they want to expand their platform by having representation at an upcoming Town Hall meeting. More importantly they say. now is a time to listen to everyone in the collegiate community express their opinions and thoughts openly and equally. As Dr. Clarkson explains, “The conversation on racism hasn’t been happening. It’s up to each individual to unpack what’s inside of them.” The book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo was also referenced in our interview as a good resource to begin a conversation. 
On the challenges of employing and encouraging enrollment of diverse individuals, Dr. Rutherford adds, “It’s challenging to recruit diverse students and staff when no one here looks like them and our climate is unprepared to host them.” Clearly there is still a lot of work to do, but creating awareness, promoting an inclusive and equitable culture, and prioritizing diversity in job descriptions are important steps forward.
 
How would someone get more involved with CVM Diversity and Inclusion Committee initiatives or other groups that promote diversity?
In addition to welcoming a new Director soon, the committee hopes to hold elections for committee representation soon. Individuals are sought who will be able to play an active role in regular DNIC meetings. Committee members will represent faculty, staff, and students, and they will strive to give each member an equal voice on the committee.
 
If you have an issue or are interested in learning more about the DNIC at the CVM, you are encouraged to contact Drs. Tina Clarkson and Mark Rutherford for more information.