Ask any African-American veterinarian — anywhere in the country — where they attended veterinary school.
Odds are they’ll name a school in Alabama.
“If you see a Black face, that person probably came from Tuskegee University,” says Dr. Ruby Perry, associate dean at the School of Veterinary Medicine.
More than 70 percent of Black veterinarians in the United States are Tuskegee grads, Perry says, and the school continues to train 50 to 60 percent.
You won’t, however, stand out on campus if you’re not one of the 120 Black veterinary students.
“We wouldn’t be truthful to the ideals of diversity if we only had African-American students,” Perry says.
Haylie Hendershot, for example, is one of 100 Whites on campus.
“Haylie would not feel comfortable if it was ‘just her,’” Perry says. “She needs to come in and see someone like her.”
Hendershot, who is president of the class of 2011, concurs: “I probably would not have come here if they didn’t have another White student.”
She’s glad they do, she says, because she’s glad she came.
“Never have I felt uncomfortable being a White student at a historically Black college,” Hendershot says. “Everybody has embraced me.”
You’ll find three Asian students on campus, too, as well as three from India and 18 Hispanics. School officials estimate that 10 percent of the country’s Hispanic veterinarians are Tuskegee grads.
It’s no accident, either, that they were there, or are there.
School officials actively encourage a mix of students, Perry says.
They no longer have a Native American student on campus, for example, so they’re working with a Native American graduate to help recruit.
Tuskegee grads nationwide encourage students to apply to their alma mater, Perry says.
For example, Stefanie Clay left the Midwest to attend.
“My mentor at the University of Minnesota, an alum at Tuskegee, spoke to me about the school,” says Clay, class of 2010 and student body president of the vet school.
She was intrigued with the warm weather and the opportunity to become a “Southern belle,” she says.
The No. 1 reason she chose Tuskegee, though, was the diversity.
The faculty, though, is not as diverse as they’d like it to be, Perry says, and budget constraints keep them from having as many faculty members as they’d like.
“We’re losing faculty just like everybody else,” she says.
Male students, too, are becoming scarce, which reflects a nationwide trend. There are 195 female students at Tuskegee’s veterinary school and only 49 males. About 75 percent of entering students nationwide are female, according to information from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
A stroll through campus reveals students of every persuasion, doing what veterinary students do: Listening to lectures, grabbing a bite to eat between classes, and, of course, working with animals.
At the small-animal hospital, Mark Freeman, an assistant professor of small-animal internal medicine, coaches second-year student Carl Southern on the art of examinations. Freeman greets their client, an American Staffordshire terrier, with “Hello, Chyna, darling. How are you?” before raising her to a stainless-steel table. Slowly, he works his hands down and around her body, pausing at intervals to explain.
“Keep your hands on the animal as much as possible,” Freeman says. “If you’re not looking and touching, you’re going to miss things.
Next up is a black rabbit named Trumpet, who Freeman gives the once-over while Ai Tsuiki of Ichinomiya, Japan, class of 2010, looks on. In another area, Caroline Schaffer, assistant professor and director of the center for the study of human-animal interdependent relationships, and Sue-Ellen Brown, a clinical psychologist, work with students in the human-animal bond/animal behavior club. They’re testing Callie, a pointer/collie mix, and Jeng, a Shar-Pei, to see if their temperaments would make them good candidates for therapy dogs at nursing homes.
“Obviously we would want a dog that’s not skittish,” says third-year student, and the club’s president, Charles McMillan.
At the barn, David McKenzie, an associate professor of large-animal medicine, supervises fourth-year student Kabita Deka while she deworms a goat named Billy, who was diagnosed with intestinal parasites.
Tuskegee’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, which has graduated 2,111 veterinarians, was established in 1945 to fill a void, “to get more Blacks into the profession,” says Perry, who is a Tuskegee graduate and “the first Black female board-certified veterinary radiologist.”
Michael Blackwell, retired assistant surgeon general for the United States Public Health Service and former dean of the University of Tennessee’s veterinary school, and veterinary school deans Willie Reed, of Purdue University, and Phillip Nelson, of Western University of Health Sciences, are among distinguished Tuskegee alumni as well. Harold Davis, a vice president at Amgen, an international biotechnology firm headquartered in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Irving McConnell, founder of The McConnell Group, a health sciences company based in Dublin, Penn., are Tuskegee alumni too.
And that’s good, not just for Tuskegee, but the state of Alabama, officials say, which is one of only two states, along with California, to boast two of the country’s 28 accredited veterinary schools. Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is a mere 20 miles northeast. Most veterinary schools and colleges, like Auburn, are located at state universities, according to information from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Tuskegee, which is semiprivate, remains the lone veterinary school at a historically Black college. They plan to continue their mission to help the profession more accurately reflect the population, they say, and to work with other schools to help further that cause.
“We are the example,” Perry says.
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