Posted October 06, 2015
Angela Harrington (left)
and Erin Black (right)
Angela Harrington and Erin Black, DVM students at the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
(CVM), are leaders in the organization Veterinary Students as One
In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE). They were both elected to their
current posts at the Student American Veterinary Medical
Association (SAVMA) Symposium in March 2015. What follows is an
edited conversation about the group, their roles in it, and what
they hope to accomplish.
What is VOICE?
VOICE is a student-run organization that focuses on different
ways of raising awareness about culture and ethnicity, and we have
different events that are free and open to veterinary students,
just to bring some education and, as I said, awareness.
VOICE started at Cornell in the early 2000s and the various
schools opened their own chapters. I became involved because I
realized that the veterinary profession was lacking diversity, so I
found organizations here that were working to improve that.
How do we improve inclusiveness in the veterinary
I think practicing veterinarians actually have the most influence
on who is applying to veterinary school because students are
inspired by working with veterinarians or going to veterinarians
when they were little. So just branching out to families and having
that inclusive environment and being open to everyone, that’s
what’s going to change the field the most. We, the students, are
already here, so we’re not going to be able to change the
enrollment statistics in our class. All we can do here is raise our
awareness, and that’s something that I want all the students to do.
As professionals, we need to have that level of awareness and be
open to everyone in our communities, because we are part of
businesses and we are serving the public and we need to be leaders
in that aspect. I think having that cultural competency awareness
is just necessary, not only to be a successful veterinarian, but
also to be a successful human being.
What attracted you to become a
My mother is a veterinarian, so I grew up in the profession. So,
that’s how I’ve always known, but I know that’s not how it is for
How can we advance VOICE?
I think one of the things we need to do with VOICE is bring in
more alumni, because after you graduate, there are not a lot of
organizations. One of the biggest issues with VOICE is students
don’t realize that they are already automatically members. They
don’t have to pay dues. They feel like, “I can’t come to the
events,” or they don’t know that it exists, even. So that’s one of
the biggest things we’re trying to do at Texas A&M and on the
national level—just to say who we are, what we do, and get people
involved and to come to our events and raise that awareness.
Where do you get support for VOICE?
Zoetis does a lot of funding for us, so students don’t have to
pay dues. And the dean’s office, they help fund us too. We don’t
want to forget to thank them. Also, Dr. Kenita Rogers and Dr. Dan
Posey have been very supportive of VOICE and the LGBT group. The
ideas they come up with are so exciting, and they love coming to
our events and meetings, so it’s nice to have that support.
Are we advancing our mission to recruit diverse
populations of students?
I went to the Iverson Bell symposium in Washington, D.C., this
year, and it was amazing to hear about all the steps that Texas
A&M is actually taking, compared to other veterinary schools,
to improve the diversity problem, even just with how they do the
multiple mini-interview format now and how they try to be aware of
all the issues that can come up and focus on making things better
for all students. And a lot of schools haven’t even done that. A
lot of schools don’t have things like VOICE, and having the
diversity-cultural competencies that we have in our curriculum. So,
Texas A&M is doing a lot in that respect, and it has a lot to
do with the work of Dr. Rogers and Dean Eleanor Green.
What do we need to do to advance diversity
At the SAVMA Symposium, we had a forum, and it focused on seeing
what everybody thought that diversity meant, and a lot of people
had different perceptions of what it was. They thought it was only
about ethnicity, not disabilities or different backgrounds, and so
first of all we need education on what diversity encompasses, and
then go from there.
How many VOICE chapters are there in the
The chapter at Texas A&M started about three years ago now,
and there are only about 16 active chapters at the other veterinary
schools, although some are in the process of starting new VOICE
chapters. They just need help to do so, so the national
organization is trying to help them.
What are some of your VOICE goals?
Coming from the African-American background, I know the
percentage of us in veterinary school is not representative of the
country’s population, so I would like to improve that and also
allow people who often don’t feel included in things to feel
included. I think that’s important at our school and also
nationally, where we’re trying to push all of the different
student-run organizations across the veterinary schools, keep
everybody on track, and see what everybody is doing and where we
are struggling and how we can get better. This year we are focusing
on getting diversity pushed to the forefront of issues within the
veterinary profession, and we will be working closely with the
Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and
also with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). We’re
really excited about that. I’ve already made contacts with Dr.
Andrew Maccabe of AAVMC. He’s willing to help, along with the
What more can we do as individuals to increase
If you come from a diverse cultural background, it is so
important to be able to affect the younger generation. It’s not
starting at the undergraduate level, or even necessarily the high
school level, but elementary and middle school level. If you’re
Asian, or black, or have a disability, or whatever, and the kids
see you and think, “Oh wow, they can be veterinarians! That didn’t
hinder them, so it shouldn’t hinder me.” We just need to reach out
and have a bigger influence on our communities.
What influenced you to become a veterinarian, and how do
you hope to inspire others?
I grew up going to the Boys & Girls Club of Collin County as
a young child, and they always brought in speakers. They never
brought in actual veterinarians, but they brought in lots of people
who dealt with animals, and I’ve always loved animals, so the most
logical step was to become a veterinarian. From there, I realized
the lack of diversity and how it is not as common for
African-Americans to go to veterinary school, so I have found
veterinarians who mentored me, some with backgrounds similar to
mine, some with other backgrounds. I do see the importance of
reaching out, especially to the younger kids, and we have started
doing that. We went to Neal Elementary in Bryan, which—although we
did not realize it before we visited—is mostly underrepresented
minorities, and a lot of them were just like, “Whoa, we’ve never
had anything like this before!” You could just see the excitement.
We talked to them about rabies and animals—not necessarily trying
to get them all to become veterinarians, but just to expose them to
some of these ideas.
What are some of the steps we can take to increase
Right now, Rachel Caesar, who works with the USDA APHIS Animal
Care, is in the midst of forming a professional group, and
hopefully we’ll help build something for people to continue on and
have affiliations and be working on the issues, where you can
easily find something to join and stay in touch, have speakers, and
find more information. I hope to be able to influence—or at least
connect with people who have more influence—making people more
aware. I think the first steps are awareness and education. From
there, we could increase awareness of barriers, known or
unforeseen, in our application process. I know Dr. Kenita Rogers
and I and Ashton Richardson have worked together to figure out some
of the barriers in admissions at Texas A&M. We’re reaching out
to A&M University Prairie View to try to prepare them for Texas
A&M’s rigorous application process and things that always
slipped through the cracks. That’s where a lot of my efforts are
focused right now.
Is support key to your organization’s
Some schools might be held back by the dean’s office not being
supportive, but we have a huge supportive team. I think Texas
A&M, at the veterinary college especially, is very much aware
of the lack of diversity, and I feel like we are trying to take
steps that way. It’s a long hard road, and right now we are not
representative of our diverse population, but we have efforts in
place as we attempt to improve that. Join! Join VOICE!
Contact Information: Megan Palsa,
firstname.lastname@example.org, 979-862-4216, 979-421-3121 (cell)
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