By Kate Hunger
The newly formed, student-led UT Health San Antonio chapter of the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) launched this spring.
Founded by the American Occupational Therapy Association Emerging Leaders Development Program in 2014, COTAD is a national organization that promotes inclusion and diversity within the profession.
Lauryn Martin, a second-year occupational therapy student, and chapter chair saw a need for the chapter when she arrived on campus and found a few minority student groups.
“I thought it was very much needed because we talk about how much diversity is needed, but we don’t get to the root issues,” she said, explaining that learning about other cultures will help prepare students for the profession. “We can be culturally empathetic when we go into OT, not to assume that (clients) are this culture, so this is how they are going to be.”
Martin, who grew up in Austin, said her own experience taught her the need for better cultural understanding.
“Everyone has their own uniqueness,” said Martin, who was one of few African American students at her school and realized that some people assumed African Americans to be “all the same.”
Second-year student Cynthia Cantu is the chapter’s vice-chair. She is actively seeking to understand other cultures as she prepares for her career.
“I am from a very small town that is 99 percent Hispanic,” Cantu said. “I did not get to experience much diversity or even have acquaintances from other backgrounds or races until I moved to San Antonio.”
Martin and Cantu seek to provide a place for students to learn and grow.
“We want them to come in and make it a safe place to have tough conversations, to open up the floor and be comfortable enough to ask these questions,” Cantu said, adding the chapter will host guest speakers, participate in workshops, organize volunteer opportunities and serve as an information resource.
Membership in the group is free to occupational therapy students. Those interested in joining can contact Martin and Cantu or use the link to the chapter’s group meet that was shared with all occupational therapy students. Because of COVID-19, the group has held its first meetings virtually.
The chapter’s faculty advisor, Assistant Professor Precious Osuoha, Ph.D., OTR, said that while more people of color are entering the occupational therapy profession, there is room for improvement. Educating occupational therapy students on diversity and inclusion issues will help them to better serve their clients.
“When we are very well rounded, it makes us better therapists and helps us to relate to our patients better,” she said.