Igniting Change in the OT Community

In the weeks since the IGNITE series went live, we have had thousands of attendees at virtual events who are eager to learn, share their stories, and better equip themselves to prevail in the ongoing struggle to achieve our organization’s mission of empowering occupational therapy leaders to engage in practices that increase diversity, equity and inclusion for a more transformative occupational therapy profession. Although it is a difficult task, it is made much easier when we are striving together.

Participants in the IGNITE events have provided valuable feedback and insight into their experiences as black and brown OT students, educators, practitioners, and leaders and White allies and co-conspirators. Further, many White participants have had their eyes opened to the oft-ignored reality of those who have been marginalized - and those who are actively working to change their programs and communities so that future OT students, clinicians, and clients will not experience their struggles.

Many participants shared quotes and stories about their experience that were powerful and gave a sobering and inspiring look into the hearts and minds as Black and brown OT practitioners, students, educators, and leaders at this time of racial reckoning:

“We [Black practitioners] are assumed incompetent until we prove our competence.”

“Yes to the joy a patient or parent feels when seeing a Black therapist that looks like them!”

“As a Black male OT, you have a standard that you have to live up to at all times.”

“Entering into anti-racist work requires a radical relearning about people.”

“We were taught to deal with racism, not to talk about it.”

“We received emails almost daily about COVID, but nothing about what’s happening now. It hurt.”

“As OTs we want to take the struggle out of people’s lives, provide justice. Our current system is pumping the brakes on occupational justice.”

“People don’t want to see what’s going on as a truth because they are not experiencing it.”

“There are some occupations I can’t think about without associating them with Black deaths.”

“We need more exposure to Black culture in the OT curriculum. I wish AOTA would place an emphasis on occupational justice for groups facing systemic racism.”

“In our entire class the PowerPoint didn’t have any pictures of people of color. It’s the little things like that.”

“It gave me a lot of hope to see that so many people who don’t look like me care about this issue.”

“The silence from the professors and the blanket statements made it hard to move forward.”

“I’m so damn tired of being asked to be the voice of my whole race.”

“It’s important that we as students talk to our faculty cause they are struggling to communicate.”

“My university sent out a single email about the violence...nothing from my program...and I can’t get over the difference when I compare that to the million emails we’ve gotten about COVID-19.”

“I was in [a Zoom breakout room during an IGNITE event] and it just felt so safe...I appreciate how this organization made this meeting.”

“Speaking up is better than having your response be perfectly drafted! We don’t want to remain silent just because we can’t perfectly articulate it.”

“Normalize talking about racism rather than normalizing racism itself.”

“All day and all night I hear helicopters, sirens, bad and scary news. It’s like I live in a war zone and I can’t think about anything else.”

“This group and session makes me so proud to be an OT!”

“I feel guilty if I do anything or think anything unrelated to violence and police brutality and racism. I feel badly if I am not actively protesting.”

“We should hold our educators to a higher standard. Our white faculty aren’t equipped to have these conversations but they should open up the space. There’s so much focus on anatomy, but we should put more focus on culture and teaching about injustice.”

“I feel called to create a space for my clients to process, express sadness and anger, drive and protest or be activists. Even children and older adults!”

“We [IGNITE event attendees] are the ones we’ve been waiting for!”

“It’s so challenging to practice self care because I’m feeling so down, exhausted, sad, angry, and anxious.”

“Feeling the burden of being the only black student, and having professors asking me to explain the current situation to them.”

“I could be the next hashtag.”

“It’s hard enough to come up with an elevator speech for what is OT, let alone to come up with an elevator speech for what it’s like to be Black in America.”

“Your experience IS your expertise.”

“We need financial support and resources for retention to enhance academic performance and overall quality of life [for students of color]. Support needs to be consistent and holistic!”

“Having a mentor who looks like you and understands your needs is so important.”

“We [researchers of color] change the narrative of what can be published.”

“Learning to say ‘No,’ or ‘I’ll think about it,’ or ‘I’ll see how that fits’ is probably one of the most important things one can do in a career.” - Jackie Provost

“What fuels me is knowing that there are others working on this.”

“Literally don’t know how I would be making it through the end of schooling without COTAD.”

“Why is anti-racism or even just implicit bias not mandated in the curriculum in OT school?”

“I am so proud to be a part of this group, I am learning constantly. My breakout room also started with tears, but what followed was vulnerability and honesty, and some laughs here and there. [IGNITE session] was a much needed event!” - Helen V., COTAD Board

If you want to be a part of the change that is happening in classrooms, board rooms, and living rooms across the country, there are a variety of ways in which you can join the movement, including:

Don’t let this moment pass you by - now is the time to take a stand or continue pressing forward toward a future in which safety, dignity, and engagement in meaningful occupation is accessible for all.

© 2020 Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity. All rights reserved.
COTAD is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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