Equity-minded well-being

Last week was Wellness Week in our D.V.M. Program, and our students led an amazing program! Unfortunately, Monday’s programs were cancelled because of a snowstorm, and that meant that our session on justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and well-being was forfeited to the weather. But, to make sure all was not lost, I thought I’d highlight why justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and wellness or well-being really cannot and should not be separated.

First off, our goal related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within our college is that everyone can access and thrive in our community as their whole selves. This goal is impossible to achieve if we disregard wellness and well-being in our community.

On the flipside, wellness is defined by Debbie Stoewen in The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Medicine as “a holistic integration of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, fueling the body, engaging the mind, and nurturing the spirit. Although it always includes striving for health, it’s more about living life fully.” Although this definition in more individually focused than our goal for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, we know that wellness by this definition is unachievable for people when they experience exclusion and isolation and/or lack access to resources and support that foster well-being.

To advance our goals related to justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and wellness, we then should start by identifying the barriers that some folks marginalized in our community face. For instance, people who experience racism, ableism, sexism, genderism, classism, etc. are more likely to experience isolation and marginalization. Their very experience in a community that isn’t inclusive can prevent them from experiencing wellness and well-being, particularly in the mental and emotional health realms. People from low socioeconomic statuses may lack access to healthcare, including related to costs and insurance, work schedules, and or transportation barriers. Additionally, intersectionality literature shows us that people who hold multiple marginalized identities experience heightened barriers to justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and wellness.

So, if justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and well-being are inextricably linked, we should approach them as such. Below are some ways to do this:

  • Center marginalized groups in wellness/well-being initiatives: If we focus on providing those most marginalized with an inclusive environment and access to healthcare and support, we will inevitably build a more inclusive community and well-being for all of our community members.
  • Incorporate equity-mindedness into all our strategic work: When we look at our policies, initiatives, and programs from an equity lens, we can reflect on who’s missing and/or falling through the cracks to prevent that from continuing.
  • Resist ableism: When it comes to wellness and well-being, we can sometimes fall back on assumptions around what and/or who is well and what standards these are based on, which tend to be based on folks with more dominant identities, including able-bodied and neurotypical people. Instead, we must question these standards and how they are harmful to folks with diverse abilities, and re-center those marginalized by these systems.

Working toward justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and well-being in a concerted effort will make us more effective toward our goals in all of these.