How Did You Navigate Vet School As One of the Few Black Students?

QUESTION:

I am a first year vet student starting at your very own Alma Mater, Cornell. As I'm sure you are well aware, veterinary medicine is the least racially and ethnically diverse medical profession.

I am wondering if you could share some knowledge about how to navigate veterinary school as one of the few black students, and what you think minority practitioners have to offer the field. Have you found your colleagues to be open to engaging in real conversations about the intersections of race/culture/ethnicity and animal medicine, or does the field seem resistant to change? Any suggestions for how to improve diversity in vet schools?

 

ANSWER:

It was tough learning how to navigate vet school as one of the few Black students. While in vet school, I never received a lecture from someone who looked like me. I never had a resident, chief, or intern who looked like me. I felt as though there was a magnifying glass on me throughout the time I was student and I knew some of my classmates thought I got in due to something like affirmative action until they realized everything that was listed on my resume. I also had a difficult time transitioning to being one of ten Black students in my department when I had just graduated from an HBCU. I never experienced overt racist things and no one was profoundly disrespectful, but there were moments where actions suggested otherwise. People said or did things that bordered on the line of being anti-semitic and racist. In other words, there were a lot of great aspects of Cornell, but it was not a utopia. 

I believe that some of my colleagues were open to having an honest dialogue about race and diversity, however I am not confident in saying that was the majority. Denial is real. Denial about privilege, stereotypes, and opportunity is real. If there is denial, then you can't be honest about reality. I noticed that when diversity was addressed, it mainly focused on the profession as a whole and rarely our immediate environment: Cornell Vet School. I do not believe "the powers that be" are resistant to change, but I do not believe they rank the issue of diversity and intercultural dialogue high. If it was, I think there would be a noticeable progress in the diverse make-up of the classes and hospital...and there isn't.

One of the ways I was able to cope was by playing an active role in building my own community. I reached out to the Black vet students and Black faculty. The last I checked there were only three Black faculty in the whole College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell who mainly work in the graduate school portion of the college. Next, I became active in my church and in Cornell's Black Graduate and Professional Student Association. These groups allowed me to build a community where I could go and relax without worrying about someone regarding my actions and opinions as being the sole representative of my entire race. I could joke about stuff and not worry about someone mocking me for using Ebonics. 

Minority practitioners have much to offer the field and do so every single day. Something as simple as having more diverse faces will provide a positive image for the next group of young minds who want to become vets and have the potential to revitalize their interest. The best part of doing the show "Vet School" was receiving all of the pictures, emails, and messages from people around the world saying "you have inspired me" or "my children love watching you and are learning so much." Finally, one of the things I believe we can do to help with diversity is by making the conscious effort to share the knowledge we have gained in our own experiences to others who wish to take similar paths. There are so many minority students that end up not going to graduate school because they got discouraged along the way due to lack of information or guidance. We can change that.  

 

Dr. G