Animal sciences, pre-vet face all time low minority enrollment

By Tanika Ely

Underrepresented racial minority enrollment in the Animal Sciences/Pre-Veterinary Program at the University is at its lowest point in eight years, according to the Division of Management Information. The DMI identified African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives as the underrepresented minorities.

While the percentage of minority students in Animal Sciences/Pre-Vet has dwindled, minority enrollment for the entire University has increased from 11.6 percent to 12.2 percent in the same eight-year period, according to the 2003 DMI report.

Mary Kelm, assistant dean for academic and student affairs within veterinary medicine, said racial diversity in the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and animal sciences program is relatively low, but is something the department hopes to improve. She also said diversity is a problem for veterinary medicine as a profession. Kelm said she believes minority families would rather see their children go into other professions such as dentistry or human medicine.

Zach Knight, sophomore in LAS and an African American who was previously an animal sciences major, agreed. He said there is no incentive for people of color to go into veterinary medicine.

“Blacks coming from an urban environment don’t have the same experience as people from rural areas,” Knight said.

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There is a problem with attracting people of color to animal sciences, but also with keeping them in the field, Knight said.

La Tanya Robinson, an African-American junior in LAS, said she believes this is true. Robinson was an animal sciences major her freshman year, but later switched to history. Besides difficult course work, she said she changed her major because professors treated students as though they were all from the same background.

“They assumed everyone came from a rural background and didn’t take into account people from cities or inner cities,” Robinson said.

Robinson also said she did not form any close relationships with other animal science majors and often felt isolated. She said she believes one reason racial minorities leave animal science is because the department does not reach out to students of color, and there is no support system in place to address these issues.

Kelm disagreed and said counseling is offered to students in the veterinary medicine program. She said they also have programs in Chicago that encourage high school students to pursue degrees in veterinary medicine. Other programs within the college of ACES, such as the Principle Scholars Program, help minority high school students prepare for college, Kelm said.

While Knight used to be involved with the Principle Scholars Program, he said the problem of low minority enrollment will not get better any time soon. Minorities drop out of ACES because they do not see familiar faces and often feel isolated, Knight said.

Knight suggested one way of solving the problem: introduce animal-related science courses at an earlier age in junior high and high school. He said teaching animal-related sciences to younger students will help them develop an interest in veterinary medicine.

Because class sizes in animal sciences are usually small, Kelm said students get to know each other better. The classes offer a family environment, she said.

“But if a person (of color) were to look for other faces like their own, then yes, I’d say it’s lonely in that respect,” Kelm said.