April 14, 2015

Let’s talk about the white female elephant in the room…

By Elizabeth Francis

That’s right; I’m talking about diversity, or rather our lack thereof. In November of 2013 The Atlantic declared the veterinarian the “whitest job” in the US at 97% white. And as the number of women in the profession continues to grow, male veterinarians continue to be far more likely to take on leadership roles in student organizations, VMA’s and in practices.

Yesterday I sat down with Lisa Greenhill, who is the associate director for institutional research and diversity at the AAVMC (Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges- the association that brought you VMCAS and the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education). We talked about barriers into vet school for people of color, the LGBT community, the disabled and other minority groups. Obviously a diverse community is a strong community, and ideally the veterinary population would reflect the diversity of the public we serve. So what can we do to welcome more people into the fold?

Well the diversity initiative at AAVMC has taken steps to do just that- and since the initiative began in 2005 the number of racially/ethnically underrepresented students has grown 90%. The first step in supporting underrepresented students is to understand the climate at in institution. In 2011 all vet students were asked to complete a survey which asked about their experiences and interactions with other students, faculty, and staff. It was discovered that nearly a third of racial/ethnic minority students had experienced racism, mostly from other students. Similarly, 20% of LGBT students reported hearing homophobic slurs in the academic setting. These unwelcoming environments contribute to lower retention rates for these students and less representation in our profession.

Another barrier to entry into the profession for minorities is simple geography. The only vet school that is part of a historically black University is Tuskegee, where POC make up a much higher percent of the class than in other programs. Additionally, in certain areas of the country it may be harder to recruit people of color onto the faculty simply because the culture of that area is perceived as unwelcoming.

I know that this is an unpopular area of discussion, but I think it is an important one. When I walk from main campus over to our CVM at Missouri, I am shocked by the difference between the groups of students. I want vets to be an integrated part of the communities they work in, no matter what that community looks like.

For more info on the diversity initiative, check out: http://www.aavmc.org/Programs-and-Initiatives/Diversity.aspx