My qualifications to help lead the profession towards more equitable change in efforts on DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion)
I received this question on CommunOT on my qualifications to help guide DEI efforts towards more equitable change. Here is the question and my answer!
"Congrats on running for the vice president of AOTA. It is ever more important that our leaders reflect the changes we would like to see in the profession. This year has caused many OTs to adjust to so many changes. In particular, our nation and profession has begun examining DEI. There is no doubt that DEI both impacts OTs and also the people we serve. Please tell me why you are more qualified to lead the profession towards more equitable change as VP than other candidates."
Thank you for the question and the opportunity for me to discuss my qualifications for addressing diversity, equity and inclusion in our profession as the next Vice-President of AOTA.
My professional experience across 35 years provides me insight into all aspects of 1) recruitment to the profession, 2) admission to educational programs, 3) support of students who may need additional supports to successfully complete an educational program, 4) entrée to the profession through a first job, 5) professional development and continuing competence, and 6) personal growth, engagement and development as a practitioner and leader.
I served on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago for 19 years and served as the Program Director for the entry-level educational program for occupational therapists for eight years. In this role I was responsible for oversight of our admissions process and our student advising and support efforts. I served on the admissions committee for many years. This experience helped me to gain insight into the value of a holistic admissions process and a detailed understanding of the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accreditation standards and the relationship between AOTA and the ACOTE. I collaborated with other faculty to design a holistic admissions process that recognized the value of a diverse student body and the consideration of a broad definition of diversity that included age, disability status and experience, gender, and economic challenge as well as race and ethnicity.
My education including a Master of Education in Human Resource Development with a focus on adult learning and training design provided me with skills to develop and evaluate effective learning experiences for professionals. I am currently involved in efforts to provide diversity and inclusion education and training to employees at MD Anderson Cancer Center where I manage a department of over 140 FTEs. The current training focuses on issues of implicit bias and the development of an inclusive and safe work environment.
My volunteer experience with AOTA has spanned more than three decades and provided me numerous opportunities to address DEI in our profession through the Special Interest Sections, the Representative Assembly and the Board of Directors. I have a deep understanding of where we have been as an association; what we have tried, what has worked and why we have made limited progress. I was involved in the development of both the Centennial Vision and Vision 2025. I participated in discussions that lead to specific inclusion of diversity in the Centennial Vision and the discussions that lead to it NOT be specifically identified in Vision 2025. I was a staunch advocate for explicit attention to DEI in both vision statements and in AOTA's strategic priorities throughout my two terms on the Board of Directors.
As Chairperson of the SIS Steering Committee for 5 years and Speaker of the RA for 3 years, I was involved in multiples discussions and efforts related to DEI and have developed a broad understanding of the complexity of the issue within AOTA, within OT in the U.S and internationally. Through involvement in protracted discussions about the inclusion of social justice in our Code of Ethics I learned much about the disparate perspectives on social justice and DEI in our membership at large. These discussions were challenging and at times disheartening, but they led to significant personal growth for me and fostered deeper insight into my values, my implicit biases and to opportunities for further growth. They also led me to become aware that a truly diverse culture in occupational therapy must embrace diversity of thought. We must remember that the members of our profession are as diverse in political beliefs and values as our society. Unfortunately, that means that we must also confront the prejudices and biases that are held by some of our colleagues.
Through my experience in education, my service on the Board of Directors and my many years as an occupational therapy manager I have developed an acute awareness of the challenges of occupational therapy practitioners with disabilities. This is an often-overlooked group in discussions of DEI and an under-utilized resource by our association. These practitioners have much that they can share to improve member experience such as confronting limited accessibility at events such as our Annual Conference & Exhibition, participating in online meeting or in trying to navigate the AOTA website. There is much room for improvement in the experience of students with disabilities in our educational programs and to support OT practitioners with disabilities. I have significant experience in application of the ADA both to students and to occupational therapy practitioners as employees.
I have been a champion for social justice in our profession. My journey began through the development of return to work programming for people living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, many of whom struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. Most of these clients were members of the LGBTQ community, persons of color or women and faced stigma and discrimination in employment and housing at many levels. These efforts were carried out through two federally funded research grants that led to opportunities to learn more about social justice and DEI within our profession and our culture at large. I served for six years on the Board of Directors of the Alexian Brothers' AIDS Ministry which operated two assisted living facilities for people living with HIV/AIDS and was recognized with their President's Award in 2004.
I have explored issues of social justice in depth and promoted social justice within our profession. I was honored to be asked to present on social justice by the National Phi Theta Epsilon in 2006 and awarded a Certificate of Distinction for contributions in research and scholarship. I was also invited to be the guest co-editor of a special issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) on social justice in 2009. These efforts have been widely cited and resulted in work by others to further social justice efforts by occupational therapy practitioners. In addition, my efforts were recognized when AOTA asked me to be the lead author on AOTA's Societal Statement on Health Disparities first adopted in 2006 (https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=1853067).
Finally, my personal experience as a male in a female dominated profession and as a Gay man in OT and in our society provide me experiences and insights to draw from. I am aware that I have benefited from the privilege that comes with being a white male but at the same time I have experienced discrimination and even violence as a Gay man. In a similar way, as a male in a female dominated profession (approximately 11% of occupational therapy practitioners are male), I am aware that at times I have benefited from outward sexism that has favored me simply because I am male and at other times I have had to overcome implicit bias about what it means to be a male occupational therapy practitioner.
I believe that these broad experiences in the development of clinical programs, community-based research, the administration of an entry-level educational program, three decades of experience as a manager, extensive volunteerism for AOTA and scholarly and personal championing of social justice make extremely well qualified and prepared to lead AOTA and our profession towards more equitable change.
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