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SLU Occupational Therapy Starts New Chapter of Diversity Group

In 2020, a group of Saint Louis University (SLU) Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy students founded a SLU chapter of the national group Coalition for Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD). The SLU COTAD mission is to empower occupational therapy leaders to engage in practices that increase diversity, equity and inclusion for a more transformative occupational therapy profession. Currently, the SLU COTAD chapter operates as a sub-group of SLU’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) but will be working towards becoming an independent group in 2021.

SLU COTAD Logo
The SLU COTAD mission is to empower occupational therapy leaders to engage in practices that increase diversity, equity and inclusion for a more transformative occupational therapy profession.

President and founder of the SLU COTAD chapter Drashti Topiwala started working with member of the OT faculty in May 2020 to launch the group in August. Topiwala explained what motivated the creation of the SLU COTAD group.

“Social justice has always been a passion of mine since I grew up in a predominately white suburban neighborhood and was one of the only people of color. Seeing my parents receive racist remarks and experiencing them as well has exposed me to many different situations of injustice,” Topiwala said. “I discovered COTAD, an organization working to raise awareness on diversity, equity, and inclusion in OT and to serve an increasingly diverse population. This motivated me to speak out and raise my voice against prejudice and I began to talk to faculty about starting this chapter.”

SLU COTAD Education Chair Peter Lenz described some of the opportunities that the organization is hoping to offer to SLU OT students.

“COTAD is working hard to spread awareness to nearby schools for their students to consider the field of occupational therapy, but also to get our students more involved in the St. Louis community,” Lenz said. “We are working on bringing in guest speakers, create meaningful conversations about embracing diversity, equity and inclusion that students can incorporate into their life and future work.”

Ultimately, Topiwala hopes that this organization can provide an environment of inclusion and of advocacy.

“I hope this chapter will create positive change and create a space for students to feel welcome. I hope that other students will feel inspired to be vocal about issues not only affecting them, but also impacting minorities around them,” Topiwala said. “I want to be part of a profession that stands up for occupational justice and is not afraid to fight systemic racism.”

The national COTAD organization was founded by members of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) in 2014 with the mission to empower occupational therapy leaders to engage in practices that increase diversity, equity and inclusion for a more transformative occupational therapy profession. The group organizes speaking engagements, book clubs, leadership development, community outreach programs, inclusion promoting resources and much more.

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 13,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.