In response to the diversity statement published by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) on 5 June 2020, an open letter was constructed by a network of BAME OTs raising concerns over several points.

This letter was constructed by ‘Mish’ Musharrat Ahmed-Landeryou, Elizabeth Kwarteng, Meroe Dalphinis, organised by Kwaku Agyemang, and supported by a BAMEOT UK network. We are publishing this letter with the authors’ permission in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and in support of the call for increased diversity in the OT profession.

OPEN LETTER

Re: showing timely and effective solidarity with your BAME members shows compassion and authenticity as a professional body

Dear Dan Smith, Julia Scott and all staff at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists,

Whilst we welcome the RCOT issuing a statement in support of diversity of the Black Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) population. We mirror the same concerns identified by The International Justice-Based Occupational Therapy (JBOT) Network, as it is relatable to the recent RCOT statement supporting diversity 05/06/2020.

The JBOT Network put out a statement on 16/06/2020, it stated that: “…deeply troubled by words omitted by many national organizations representing the global occupational therapy (OT) profession….As a profession, we must face the hard truth that because of systemic racism all people do not have the same access to and/or ability to engage in occupations. We are not fully animating our professional ethics if we do not address how racism affects our practice sites, interactions, selection of interventions, and therapy outcomes”.

We write this letter as a network of BAME practitioners, educators and students, members of the RCOT, due to the hurt and disappointment we felt with the timing and content of the diversity statement. This was received by us as a disregard of the importance of the BLM movement as it gathered momentum throughout the whole world.

We are part of the BAME communities, as well as occupational therapy professions. Most of us in this group have personal stories of racism that we have faced due to the colour of our skin or the faith we follow. We know that BAME populations are diverse, and do not claim to automatically be representative of all BAME occupational therapists, educators, students and communities, nor an authority of all forms of racism.

From reviewing the diversity statement from RCOT there are several concerns and more questions that we would like to share and would appreciate a response from Julia Scott:

-The statement sent out by Dan Smith is not explicitly signed off by Julia Scott. The statement is not featured on the front page of the website to lead and demonstrate RCOT’s commitment, “to the outrage and solidarity to its members”. Why is this?

-What was the reason for the timing of the release of the diversity statement from RCOT and its content?

-In the third paragraph it states, “The principles of diversity and equality are core to the practice of occupational therapy and are enshrined within the RCOT Code of Ethics”. This statement creates more questions about the RCOT and who it represents. Why doesn’t RCOT have an Equality and Diversity Lead Officer, to ensure e.g., that the views on BAME members are continually heard and supported. We would like greater transparency from our professional body to tell us clearly what senior roles at RCOT are taken by those from the BAME communities.

-The statement asserts that you want “to influence the future makeup of the workforce’ and ‘promote occupational therapy to school children across the country… particularly to help increase diversity of and inclusion within the profession”. However, it is not clear who is involved in delivering this, when this is taking place or how? Is it a diverse group of people from all backgrounds that will be directly involved? What model or educational reasoning are you using to ensure this is going to be effective? How will this be monitored to ensure this is working? This statement leaves more questions than answers and appears to be a very weak attempt to pacify BAME members’ very real and very current feelings and experiences.

-You state that you are “refreshing our brand to ensure that it reflects the diversity that we know the profession and wider society needs”. You provide no further details about who is involved in this work or what market research is being completed to ensure this will be the right or effective way to rebrand.

-The ending paragraph states that “We know that to truly address these issues, we need to learn from the BAME community and we need the support and guidance of our members….As a first step, we’d like to ask members to share their view and join us in a BAME Big Conversation”. We think the BAME communities and other marginalised and discriminated communities have provided a wealth of information in national reviews, research, books and media, for members and RCOT to educate themselves (see resource list below as a starter). Isn’t it time for the RCOT to draw upon the wealth and richness of existing information to encourage research on BAME topics. This will inform relevant recommendations for clear actions in relation to BAME members and populations.

-Why is it now that RCOT is reviewing other sectors’ initiatives to address diversity and “to support people from BAME communities” entry into the profession. Has this not been a genuine priority for the RCOT before? We would have found it helpful for RCOT to acknowledge that there are still too many barriers stopping people from BAME backgrounds realising real and lasting equity and justice. We would expect RCOT as our professional body to be the pioneers of actively looking at where the structural barriers exist, expose them and remove them.

We came together to write this letter, because of our shared experience of pain, anger and frustration, and to show solidarity with BAME communities who continue to experience structural racism, discrimination, health inequalities, social challenges and injustices. We also know this is not exclusively felt by BAME communities, but we now have allies from all communities, making us stronger together. We stand with JBOT’s (2020) endorsement of WFOT’s (2018) call  to action to decolonize the profession and apply “occupational consciousness” as a means to realise this goal. We need authentic, compassionate and determined leaders, developed at all levels of the profession, supported to action their visions to radically transform our organizations, policies, and practices. So that we can thoroughly address structural racism, discrimination, inequity and injustices that exclude individuals and communities.

We look forward to hearing from you.

48 names BAME and non-BAME occupational therapists, students and educators support this document to be an open letter. We are not sharing everyone’s name on this letter in solidarity with those who due to their past experiences of racism and discrimination do not want their names published.

Some resources of interest:

Black OTs Matter: Changing Your OT Practice to Combat Racism, Address Racial Trauma, and Promote Healing

https://gottabeot.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/black-ots-matter-changing-your-ot-practice-to-combat-racism-address-racial-trauma-and-promote-healing/

L.O.V.E, Let’s talk race https://open.spotify.com/episode/4sPh0qghwAiozaXLSM0re2

George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4amCfVbA_c

Justice-based occupational therapy (jbot) network 6/16/20 Response to occupational therapy statements on justice and racism https://www.slu.edu/mission-identity/initiatives/transformative-justice/pdfs-images/jbot-newsletter-vol2-issue2.pdf

Hammond, J.A., Williams, A., Walker, S., (2019), Working hard to belong: a qualitative study exploring students from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds experiences of pre-registration physiotherapy education, BMC Medical Education, 19: 372 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-019-1821-6

Kerr, S., (2018), Scorecard Report  Race at work: MacGregor-Smith Review one year on, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy: England Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/746970/BITC_Race_At_Work_Report.pdf

Guidance for white allies who are trying to help https://ladders4action.org/news-blogs-videos/blog/do-no-harm/

Look Deep. Acknowledge any privileges you may have. This is a resource on Privilege and Intersectionality: https://guides.rider.edu/privilege

Today’s activism thriving without figureheads https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/World/2018/Jun-23/454046-todays-activism-thriving-without-figureheads.ashx

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay 

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