17 Aug 2022
Animal Aspirations: widening participation and supporting the profession
05 Oct 2023 | Lharanya Somasundaram
Animal Aspirations President and RVC student Lharanya Somasundaram is passionate about the use of role models to widen participation in the profession. In her blog for Black History Month she explains why students need the support of the whole profession to make animal-related careers more accessible and welcoming for everyone.
Three years in, and I still get surprised by where I am today. As I came to realise my passion for veterinary medicine, my ambitions and enthusiasm were confronted by the realities of my culture and background. I was met with unfamiliarity and discouraged from actualising my dreams.
The value of role models
Growing up in a multicultural country like Malaysia, however, I was fortunate to find vets who came from a similar position to me and were happy to offer the support that was lacking. If it hadn’t been for this, I don’t know whether I would’ve felt confident enough to overcome the barriers that lined my path into the profession. Having been surrounded by these role models at a young age still gives me the resilience to continue my journey through vet school, where issues with diversity remain apparent.
My story is simply an iteration of the adversity those from a marginalised background constantly experience – and it is for this reason that initiatives like Animal Aspirations are so important.
Inspiring kids and changing the profession
Animal Aspirations is a student-led organisation dedicated to encouraging and increasing ethnic diversity across all animal-related careers. Our focus is to educate and inspire the younger generation and, as a result, diversify the professions. By providing our audience with opportunities to actively engage in the possibility of working with animals, we hope to challenge pre-existing stereotypes and equip young people with all the information and guidance they need to make such a career more accessible for everyone.
Understanding first-hand the power of a positive presence and being able to provide that to others is central to why I got involved, as it is for so many on the team. So far, I have been lucky to witness how the organisation has grown since its founding in 2019. From establishing new chapters and delivering a record number of workshops to collaborating with other pioneers in the field, the last year alone has been marked with achievements that have allowed us to reach over 4,000 children across the UK. The impact of this has been truly immeasurable, and the prospect of what we plan to achieve is exciting – for my presidency and beyond.
Allyship and the responsibility of the whole profession
However, the work we do, no matter how expansive and influential, cannot occur in isolation. There must be a commitment to change at an industry level as well. How can we ensure that the profession is welcoming to this diversity we are advocating? Once in the profession, we need to ensure everyone is continued to be given the opportunity to thrive. And while some may have a personal stake in this, there is no prerequisite to being able to help navigate this change. To truly nurture progress, everyone needs to be involved, regardless of background. Otherwise, there will always be a barrier that remains.
This is why allyship is fundamental to the future of the profession. Being an ally is about understanding imbalances in opportunity and using privilege to help correct this. Diversity and inclusion is more than a parallel initiative that we can choose to implement; it is something that needs to be intertwined into our everyday thoughts and actions. It can be incredibly multifaceted, and so where does one start?
Start with yourself. Acknowledge that those around you live through different experiences and opportunities daily. Recognise the role you might play in this issue, take responsibility for your own behaviours, and challenge your own biases. If you witness discrimination, advocate and intervene for others, and use your position to help amplify overlooked voices. There is no expectation to be all-knowing, so take the time to educate yourself about these struggles and listen to those involved who can guide you on how to best promote a culture of inclusion.
Being supportive has no bounds. Inequality is deeply rooted in our society, and so true allyship is a journey. It is one filled with unlearning and learning, and it can seem inherently uncomfortable at times. It requires consistency, vulnerability and bravery to address these issues. But diversity in people, ideas and perspectives is what will drive the progression and innovation of the veterinary profession. The mere prospect of this should feel like a cause worthwhile. So, I urge you to choose action over indifference. Small steps in this direction, and even some missteps, are still steps in the right direction.
Supporting Animal Aspirations
At Animal Aspirations, we work to foster a representative and constructive community which independently creates and sustains the diversity we are championing. You, too, can have an immeasurable impact – all it takes is a bit of initiative.
If you would like to learn more about Animal Aspirations and how you can support us, please visit our website, www.animalaspirations.com, and follow us on social media @AnimalAsp.
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