Veterinary diversity at a historically black college

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Will Draper and Françoise Tyler at their 1991 graduation from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee University. Photo courtesy of Will Draper

Of the more than 30 veterinary schools in the US and Canada, only 1 is located on the campus of a historically black college or university. And that single veterinary school has graduated more than 70% of the African-American veterinarians in the US.

That school is the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine (TUCVM) in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Although diversity and inclusion—or the historical lack of them—are top of mind for many these days, they’ve been an important part of Tuskegee’s heritage since the veterinary school was founded in 1945.

And while the first graduating class in 1949 was made up exclusively of African-Americans, it did include one woman.

The school broadened its mission to increase diversity in the veterinary profession by accepting applicants from Native American, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Latino backgrounds (the school currently graduates roughly 10% of the Hispanic or Latino veterinarians in the US).

TUCVM graduate Will Draper, DVM, told NEWStat, “It was the most diverse educational experience [I’ve] ever had. I loved it.”

Draper, who’s African-American, met his wife, Françoise Tyler, DVM, who’s biracial, while they were both students at TUCVM in the late 1980s.

“Tuskegee has always celebrated diversity and inclusion,” Draper said, and estimated that the student body was “about 20% nonblack” while they were in school.

But he says not everyone felt the way he did about diversity: “Some of the other Black students at Tuskegee would gripe [about the White veterinary students] and say, ‘They can go to school anywhere, why are they taking spots here?’”

That’s an attitude Draper never bought into—he and Tyler went out of their way to mix with fellow students of all backgrounds. And those bonds remain strong today.

“Three of them, all white, were in our wedding,” Draper said. “We’re still very good friends to this day.”

That doesn’t mean Draper didn’t experience racism at TUCVM. He remembers one older, white instructor who once asked him why he hadn’t considered going into plumbing or construction instead of veterinary medicine.

“At the time, it really didn’t faze me,” Draper recalled. “I didn’t think about how racist that was. I just told him I wouldn’t be good at those things.” But when he thought about it later, he said, he had a different take: “I thought, that was a really rude and inconsiderate thing to say.”

But it wasn’t the first time Draper had run into racism, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Looking back, he’s philosophical about it: “I feel bad for him. I don’t even know why he was working at Tuskegee if he has that kind of idea. He may have even thought he was helping me.”

But, in the end, Draper shrugs off the incident: “You can’t let stuff like that get in your way.”

And he hasn’t. Nor has Tyler—today, the two TUCVM grads own three AAHA-accredited practices in the metropolitan Atlanta area under the umbrella name of Village Vets, with more scheduled to open within the next year.