Open House Wants to Smash Stereotypes

Oct 2, 2020 / General News / Student Blogs

veterinary student leaders

Editor’s note: The following commentary written by student leaders was published in the News-Gazette on October 1. Pictured above are some of the Open House committee members and members of VOICE (Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment): from left, Julie Klein, Michael Greener, Alexandria Talley (behind), Francesca Giambrone, Jenny Despotovich, Alysse Budd, Alexander Nelson, Nick Crawfis, and Ji Park with her guinea pig, Coco.


Why is it that we are so quick to reject new information when it challenges our long-held beliefs? This question has taken center stage in 2020, a year when new evidence of the global COVID-19 pandemic and of our country’s systemic racism confronts our beliefs about the world almost daily.

Students at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine think stereotypes are part of the answer to this question. Stereotypes present stubborn barriers to learning new information. That’s why this year we are devoting our annual Open House to breaking down stereotypes and busting myths about all things animal- and Vet Med-related. Old dogs can indeed learn new tricks.

We are out to smash the stereotype that veterinarians only look a certain way. We want to show that anyone can become a veterinarian and find a rewarding career path suited to their interests.

Julie Klein and Ji Park

As renewed protests against racial injustice swept across the country, Open House organizers decided to take action to address the lack of diversity in their chosen profession. With leadership from the Illinois student chapter of VOICE (Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment), we chose the theme of “Myth Busting” for Open House, which had to be moved online to comply with pandemic guidelines.

We are out to smash the stereotype that veterinarians only look a certain way. We want to show that anyone can become a veterinarian and find a rewarding career path suited to their interests.

Although the gender balance in the U.S. veterinary profession has shifted from overwhelmingly male throughout most of the 20th century to majority female for the first time in 2009—and about 70% female today—the profession remains 90% white, according to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.*

Deeply ingrained stereotypes can be one of the hardest barriers to break down. The lack of underrepresented minority veterinarians to serve as role models reinforces the stereotype that people of color can’t become veterinarians, thus the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More importantly, we want to empower children and prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds by showing them role models they can relate to, including veterinarians of color and veterinarians in the LGBTQ+ community.

Julie Klein and Ji Park

Our Open House website features interviews with more than 30 veterinary professionals from a variety of backgrounds and working in diverse practice areas. We want to prove that a veterinary degree is one of the most versatile degrees. You can even hear from a second-career veterinarian who started as a police officer and went on to become the director of our college’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital!

More importantly, we want to empower children and prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds by showing them role models they can relate to, including veterinarians of color and veterinarians in the LGBTQ+ community.

The theme of breaking down stereotypes extends throughout our virtual Open House. We invited all 40+ student teams that normally host a booth at the in-person Open House to develop myth-busting content related to their topic. We can’t wait for you to explore the thought-provoking information about wildlife, breeds, diseases, veterinary careers, and much more when our website goes live on October 4. (RSVP on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/325561818663612/)

Busting stereotypes—challenging long-held beliefs—opens hearts and minds to a whole world of opportunities and experiences that were previously unexplored. Taking in new information is fundamental to growing as a person as well as growing as a society. We hope our Open House will expose you to new information about animals and a profession you thought you already knew. You might even come away with a different perspective.

By Julie Klein, Class of 2022, Open House Committee member,  and Ji Park, Class of 2022, Illinois VOICE Chapter president