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A Message from the Dean to the OVC Community

Dear OVC community, 

Like all of you, I am distressed and saddened about the long history of systematic and systemic racism that has culminated in the events happening around our world. 

These disturbing events of oppression call each of us to reflect and act on what we can do to help address racism, and in fact all attitudes and behaviours that divide us. We may be separated from the unrest in the United States by an international border, but we in Canada have our own battle with racism that is by no means won. 

Reports of hateful social media posts reported by our community have been particularly troubling and are under investigation. We have committed to taking deliberate steps to address any instance of anti-Black, racist and hateful language, ranging from offering anti-oppression, anti-bias and allyship training to disciplinary action. 

As a professional community, we need to remain mindful that our actions and words reflect not only ourselves, but also our professional veterinary colleagues and the trust society places in us as leaders. Each of us must be vigilant every day, and speak out against policies, structures and behaviours that make people in our communities feel diminished, disenfranchised or undeserving, and that result in systematic oppression. We must all engage as equal members of our OVC community, not defined by roles, to seek meaningful, deliberate and long-standing solutions.  Our OVC community must commit to listen, learn, widen our understandings, and challenge our assumptions.

At the Ontario Veterinary College, our commitment to inclusion and diversity has always been strong. We have a zero-tolerance for negative behaviours, including those considered racist. This commitment is embedded in the OVC Healthy Futures Strategic Plan under the Power of People workplace culture theme. 

Nonetheless, there are ways in which we will improve our workplace, our message and our advocacy. 

In our DVM curriculum, we are pursuing several avenues that will improve the integration of cultural competency and anti-racism training. We are taking a long-term, programmatic approach to fully ingrain diversity and inclusion into our culture at OVC, and to support students of colour. To that end, we have a goal to weave an understanding of unconscious bias and micro-aggressions into our training throughout the curriculum.

The Kim and Stu Lang Community Healthcare Partnership Program (CHPP), announced last November, is a critical component of these curricular innovations. This program will help train our DVM students to offer services to populations who typically encounter barriers to health services for themselves and their animals, including socioeconomic, geographic, racist and cultural barriers. 

One of the most important aspects of this program will be cultural competency training for students, staff and faculty, including understanding the lived experience of all racialized people in our communities and appropriate ways to partner with them on an equal footing to address their needs and those of their animals using a One Health approach. 

Another crucial area of emphasis in our DVM curriculum is the concept of relationship-centred veterinary medicine. This area of research and teaching encourages effective communication, positive relationships and models of care in veterinary practice, transforming the way veterinary care is delivered, received and perceived by our increasingly diverse community. 

We are already leaders in communication research and teaching at OVC, but we are determined to expand the influence of effective communication throughout our curricular offerings. Through building core competencies in communications and relationship-centred veterinary medicine, we will provide DVM graduates with a sense of greater efficacy and purpose. We will do this through enhanced ability to engage in culturally appropriate, positive ways with ALL client and ALL team relationships, thus maximizing health outcomes for animals and bettering the lives of those caring for them. 

Training in cultural competencies is an important component of all this work but having a diverse student body and workplace is just as vital if we are to be effective in instilling the desired cultural competencies. 

We are committed to supporting all our students, faculty and staff and we value the strength diversity brings to every area of our college.  In our surveys of employees and students, we are increasingly including measures of inclusiveness, well-being and mental health to ensure that we have the climate we need for everyone in our College to thrive. We are looking for opportunities to further attract a diverse applicant pool to our programs and to encourage applicants from underrepresented populations.  

All of this requires a thoughtful and consultative approach. Often there is a tendency to take a “check-box” approach to these important issues, to look for quick solutions instead of doing the harder work – changing culture. I’ll be looking to all of you to engage and to be part of the solution for our OVC community, and for your support going forward. 

As we take the time to bring our OVC community together to collectively and thoughtfully craft our path forward, many of you are also seeking more immediate ways in which to effect change. We encourage you to explore how your voice and your actions may bring a positive impact to those experiencing inequity and racism. I have included some resources here that may be helpful in this important conversation. 

You may be looking for recommended books on anti-racism, social justice, and to un-learn / learn. Here is one place you can find suggested lists: www.goodreads.com/genres/anti-racist

75 Things That White People Can Do For Racial Justice

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho 

To access services, or to learn how to be an effective ally, please also visit:

Office of Diversity & Human Rights
Cultural Diversity Office

I look forward to hearing suggestions from our community on this important conversation, where engagements with people of colour are especially welcomed.

Kind regards,
Jeff

Jeffrey J. Wichtel, BVSc, PhD, Dip. ACT
Dean and Professor
Ontario Veterinary College
University of Guelph