Skip to main content

Perspectives: Diversity and inclusion

  • Illustrated people-shaped figures stand side-by-side connected like puzzle pieces at the arms. They are multi-colored.

    Perspectives: Diversity and inclusion

    A response letter to the editor, originally published in JAVMA

Dr. John Andrews raises important issues in his recent letter to the editor regarding diversity and inclusion at Iowa State University1. Several of the points made, however, require additional context and consideration.

Dr. Andrews suggests that in pursuing an emphasis on production animal medicine, the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine (ISU CVM) tends to draw students from rural communities where typically < 2 percent of the population is nonwhite. He argues that a student body in which 7.4 percent of students belong to racially underrepresented populations “does not reflect a lack of diversity, compared with the population from which the college draws its students.” This argument, however, reflects a harmful underlying assumption that people of color need not be represented in the ISU CVM if they do not live in rural areas and illustrates how systemic racism becomes entrenched within cultures, institutions, and worldviews. Insidious systemic racism itself underlies the lack of diversity in rural areas. Thus, instead of rationalizing a lack of student diversity by pointing to the nondiverse rural Iowa applicant pool, we should instead ask: Why is there a lack of people of color in rural Iowa? What social, economic, and institutional factors contribute to this lack of diversity? How are these factors perpetuated and normalized? Veterinarians and veterinary colleges have a responsibility to reflect on these questions as they develop solutions.

There commonly appears to be an unstated assumption that people of color will be uninterested in production animal medicine if they are not themselves from rural communities. Historically, however, Black veterinarians have been deeply involved in protecting our nation's food supply. In his overview of the history of Black veterinarians in the United States, for instance, Dr. Eugene Adams2 points out that the Bureau of Animal Industry was a major employer of Black veterinarians for at least 50 years. This was largely because living conditions for African Americans were generally better in the north and Midwest, where most major meatpacking plants were located.2 This particular example highlights not only the longstanding history of Black veterinarians’ involvement in the food production industry, but also the systemic and structural racism that engendered that relationship.

Finally, Dr. Andrews states that “in seeking to fulfill its mission, the ISU CVM needs to select the most qualified applicants, without regard to race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual preference, or other identity characteristics.” However, the notion that admissions committees can select highly qualified applicants while ignoring sociocultural context reinforces discrimination, systemic racism, and exclusion. It favors candidates who have the financial resources, access to early education, and social support that enable them to achieve these qualifications. As stated by Dr. Andrew Maccabe,3 promoting diversity in the admissions process is necessary for “(1) improving access to and quality of veterinary care, with direct impact on human health; (2) broadening the scope of biomedical research; and (3) enhancing cultural competence among veterinary medical students.” Admissions policies must be designed with specific racially just and diversity-conscious goals to develop a veterinary workforce capable of meeting the commitments of our veterinary oath.

Again, we thank Dr. Andrews for his letter and for opening the door to these necessary discussions.

This editorial originally appeared in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, September 1, 2020, Vol. 257, No. 5, Pages 476-478.

About the authors

Lauren Bernstein, MVB, MPH, (she/her/hers) researcher, Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine

Marie Gilbertson, DVM, PhD candidate, (she/her/hers) Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine

Marissa Milstein, DVM, MA, PhD candidate, (she/her/hers) Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. We present them here to further discussion around topics related to veterinary medicine that our faculty, staff, and students find important and worthy of deeper contemplation. We encourage you to send responses to