President’s message – The power of an invitation
My life has been a perfect example of white privilege. This privilege was not earned. It has only been granted by the color of my skin and the presence of a Y chromosome. As a middle-age white male in America (born when JFK was President), I’m confident I’ve received every benefit possible. Growing up, it was easy to have cultural icons, sports heroes, political leaders, peers, teachers, mentors, and bosses that looked like me. This meant that it wasn’t hard to find a role model for anything I dreamt of doing or becoming. Should I be an astronaut? How about a fireman or a professional tennis player or even the President? Or what about a veterinarian? Sure! Every day, consciously or not, I was exposed to images and examples of people that looked like me succeeding in every profession I considered. As I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian, I never thought that someone like me would not be able to succeed in that role. I received nothing but support and encouragement every step of the way. Whether I was running for student body President, graduating from veterinary school, or owning my own practice.
This privilege carried on throughout my professional career. As a husband and a father, I was never judged for wanting to start a new practice, while also starting a family. In fact, when I participated at all in my kids’ lives, I was praised for just showing up, and never criticized if I chose to stay at work instead of attending family events.
When I was young, there were very few female role models in veterinary medicine. In addition, female colleagues of my generation didn’t have the same degree of support while working to simultaneously build a career and raise a family. Today this is not the case. Gender diversity has made our profession strong, and in so many ways better. This has undoubtedly helped to increase the number of women in leadership positions as well. During my time on the WSVMA Board, the majority of Directors (and Presidents) have been women. That hasn’t always been the case. This shift has taken decades to occur.
When will we be able to say the same regarding persons of color in the veterinary profession in Washington state?
If you are one who has been granted a degree of privilege to make your path a bit smoother, acknowledging that privilege is important. Only then is the contrast apparent. When I compare my path to that of current veterinary students from underrepresented populations, the difference is striking. I cannot pretend to put myself in the shoe’s that anyone else has walked in. But I do know what it’s like to stand in mine. Although my path involved hard work and determination, and was not always easy, it was much easier for me than for so many others. Please recognize everything you had along your path to allow you to dream about, and actually become a veterinarian. Now use that knowledge to dream of ways to help provide a path to promote and encourage those with less privilege to seek careers within veterinary medicine.
With so few persons of color in veterinary medicine, underrepresented young people rely mainly on their imagination to see themselves within this profession. I believe we should strive to provide opportunities for our current colleagues who are persons of color to help amplify their voices to a future generation. If you are interested in being involved, we would like to help find ways for you to share your path with underrepresented youth. The WSVMA is currently working alongside the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association (MCVMA) to explore possibilities. We would also love to hear any ideas you might have to help accomplish this goal.
I feel that for far too long, the veterinary community has not been successful in creating significant diversity within our profession. I believe that we must not only invite and encourage persons of color to participate in leadership roles within the WSVMA, but also create an environment where everyone feels welcome, appreciated and heard. Imagine how many more positive changes, and advances could be accomplished if ALL of our colleagues who would like to serve, had the opportunity within a safe community, to voice their opinions and become leaders. The only reason I became involved in serving with the WSVMA is because I was invited. I know I never would have volunteered without that invitation.
Who would you like to invite?
It has been an honor to serve as WSVMA President this past year.
Gary Marshall, DVM
Posted September 11, 2020