'This is your space': LGBTQ+ students forge community at veterinary college
LGBTQ+ students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine have created a place for community and camaraderie. The college is now home to an official chapter of PrideSVMC, which is the student arm of PrideVMC, a national organization of LGBTQ+ veterinary professionals.
"After a long day of trying to fit the mold, we can come into these spaces and be with our people. Here you can be different, and we love it. Be who you are — this is your space,” said Marquis Harper, one of the chapter’s founders.
Though Virginia Tech has several LGBTQ+ organizations, the veterinary college is physically and often socially separate from other parts of the university. Because veterinary students are professional students, it can be difficult to connect with other graduate students, who are often studying for master’s degrees or Ph.D.s. Thus, it’s important that LGBTQ+ veterinary students have their own space.
"There's a certain intersectionality between being a vet and being queer, and we wouldn't feel the same level of understanding from other organizations. We have different experiences, and we want to be able to interact," said Carla Gutierrez, president of the chapter.
Harper agreed. "Having this organization where we know we can find people who are like us and who understand our struggle is very beneficial.”
Harper and Gutierrez emphasized that the organization is a welcoming place for all. It offers a way for students in different graduating classes to connect with each other, and the chapter’s existence lets incoming or potential students know that they can find community at the college.
When the chapter was forming, founders began by gathering information from informal meetings to determine what students want from an LGBTQ+ veterinary student organization.
The chapter, which meets monthly, developed three major goals: community, learning, and advocacy.
"We want to have a social space with social events to enjoy with other queer individuals and also events for growing and learning, having speakers come in to talk about different topics. We also want to be a place for advocacy, so anything at the school that we want to campaign toward. For example, there’s only one gender neutral bathroom at the college — and it's a family restroom, so it's only gender neutral by default, " said Gutierrez.
Roger Ramirez-Barrios, clinical associate professor of veterinary parasitology, is the group’s advisor and was the speaker at the first meeting of the chapter’s probationary period. He expected only a handful of students to attend.
"Instead, the classroom was full. I really enjoyed that conversation because it was very honest, and I tried to show them that all of us can have some insecurities, but in the end, we are the same community and we have to feel accepted and valued,” said Ramirez-Barrios. "I've been there. I've been in the place where you don't feel appreciated, you don't feel accepted, you don't feel valued. And I want to avoid that with my students."
Because this chapter is a part of a national organization, students will be able to access networking opportunities, mentorship, and support from other LGBTQ+ veterinarians around the country.
"We get to learn from the things they've had to struggle through, and they can give us advice so that we're not having the same struggles,'' said Gutierrez.
For more information on the Virginia Tech chapter of PrideSVMC, visit its page on GobblerConnect.