TVCD: New Structure, New Leadership
In 2014, veterinary students from the Class of 2016 founded the Tufts Veterinary Council on Diversity as an umbrella organization for various diversity-related SAVMA groups: Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE), the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association (LGVMA), the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) and Broad Spectrum. Since then, TVCD has sponsored numerous talks, workshops and social events to foster a culture of inclusivity on campus and provide a support system to Cummings students.
A new structure
Over the past year, several students, faculty and staff members have worked with Dean Kochevar to expand the Council, with the new structure representing graduate students, staff, house officers and faculty alongside vet student leaders. Today, the Tufts Veterinary Council on Diversity serves as an inclusive, campus-wide group fostering best practices for communication and engagement around diversity. Last fall, Alexandria Hicks-Nelson, V18 (DVM/MS/MS with thesis), and Dr. Juliet Gladden (Assistant Professor and Clinician, Foster Hospital for Small Animals) became the first co-chairs of the newly expanded TVCD, and I met with them to discuss their new roles.
Both Alex and Dr. Gladden had volunteered to take on their positions after enjoying TVCD events in the past. Despite being relatively new to Cummings School, Dr. Gladden saw the importance of having a faculty presence to carry on the year-to-year history of the Council, in partnership with student representation, which she describes as “the vitality of the group.” Alex was also glad to step forward, saying she felt honored “to carry forward the concerns that I have and the concerns that I hear.”
Dr. Gladden is from Las Cruces, New Mexico, but chose to attend veterinary school at NC State University. Her last time doing work related to academic and professional inclusivity was in veterinary school, as an active member of the LGVMA. “There’s a deficiency in groups looking out for diversity and inclusion within private practice,” she says. “Honestly, that was one of the nice things about coming to Tufts, that that’s a focus of ours in addition to all the clinical teaching we’re trying to do.”
The first time Dr. Gladden heard about the TVCD was at the first Seven-Minute Story Night last year, a campus-wide storytelling event that asked participants to talk about “anything but animals.” When asked why she decided to take a leadership role, she talks about ‘over-identifying’ with the memory of being a vet student. “At the time I felt isolated, and I didn’t feel like there were a lot of people to reach out to, or diversity efforts that made me feel included,” she says. “The opportunity to have traveled the path I have, then to be in a faculty role, then hopefully to increase awareness of this group so people can find solace, or friends, or common interests – that’s really important to me.”
Alex also comes to us from the west coast, after graduating from Stanford University and working as a vet tech at a 25-doctor practice in California. She’s originally from New York City, where she lived in Brooklyn and went to school in the Bronx. At Stanford, she served as head of the Pre-Vet Society and worked to include pre-vets from neighboring schools at their events, those who didn’t necessarily have the same opportunities as Stanford students. “I did a lot of mentorship and tutoring in high school, and I didn’t have as much time to do that in undergrad,” she says. “Here [at Cummings] I felt like I’d just open myself as a resource for other students.”
Like many Cummings students, Alex has juggled multiple commitments during her veterinary education, and was mainly involved with our student chapter of American Society for Lab Animal Practitioners (ASLAP) before joining TVCD leadership. In her first and second year the TVCD was run by some of her classmates, and at the time she liked the programming they did. “I didn’t realize until later that there might be more work to be done on campus. It was very important for me to get my hands wet in the lab animal community before I moved onto some of my other passions, one of which is diversity and inclusion,” she says.
I ask Alex what she hopes the Council will accomplish in 2017. She acknowledges that being a third-year student transitioning into clinics means that she may not be around as much, and she wants to make lasting changes as the Council moves forward. “What can I offer in terms of ideas for changing the curriculum, or new student orientation programming? If we are going to schedule someone for a lunch talk, why not recurring lunch talks, over several years?” She stresses the importance of keeping abreast of both recurrent and fresh issues, but also triumphs. “Who’s doing things right, and how can we duplicate these techniques, instead of trying to recreate the wheel at Cummings?”
Dr. Gladden has equally high hopes for TVCD in the year to come. She talks about being surprised by how few students acted as the workhorses behind large TVCD-organized events. “I would personally like to see even more student involvement, but also more awareness at the level of the clinic,” she says. “Everything from how we obtain histories to conversations in the ER involving quality of life and the spectrum of life and death.” She talks about the need for further training on how to interact with a client base of very diverse needs. “In this current political environment, people just need to feel supported and included.”
The road to this kind of community began years ago, thanks to the efforts of the V16s that started and maintained the Council as a SAVMA club first. As for what comes next – Alex talks to me about cultivating a campus interest in inclusivity that will not fade over time, “so that diversity never falls off the docket again.” Dr. Gladden is optimistic about where we’re going. “We’re creating and working on a group where what’s common is that you’re different,” she says. “I certainly like being here because I have better access to all that – it’s not something I saw before.” With TVCD leadership in such good hands, it’s clear that the Cummings School will continue to make strides in diversity and inclusion for generations of veterinarians to come.
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