During his televised town hall on Oct. 15, Joe Biden was asked a pointed question by a young man who identified himself as an undecided Black voter.
“Many people believe that the true swing demographic in this election will be Black voters under the age of 30 — not because they’ll be voting for Trump, but because they won’t vote at all,” said Cedric Humphrey. “What do you have to say to young Black voters who see voting for you as further participation in a system that continually fails to protect them?”
Biden offered a practiced response, encouraging young Black Americans like Humphrey to vote — while also squeezing in a mention of his campaign’s commitment to increasing the Black community’s access to education, fair housing and entrepreneurship.
What the Democratic candidate didn’t have a good answer for was the very real conundrum that Humphrey described. While plenty of young Americans are embracing their vote in this year’s election for its potential to impact the climate crisis, social justice and the government’s handling of the pandemic, for many young people of color in the U.S., who are disproportionately affected by all of these problems, deciding not to participate in the 2020 presidential election has become its own call-to-action.
A recent survey conducted by hip-hop media company REVOLT of its audience, which is predominantly Black, found half of respondents between the age of 18 to 34 were either battling high barriers to get to the ballot box, or were choosing not to participate in this year’s polls. The survey, which included over 1,000 respondents and was part of the network’s VOTE or DIE! youth voting initiative, was conducted in September in partnership with First & First Consulting to better understand the anti-voter youth movement, according to Lynzie Riebling, head of the group’s youth culture insights.
For many respondents, the candidates themselves are the problem: theysaid they felt no connection to the two white men in their 70s who are competing for their vote. “We have nothing in common. I don’t feel they have the best interest of me or my community in mind,” a respondent named Tiffani T., 28, wrote on REVOLT’s survey. “There’s nothing and no one to be excited for.”
Others have lost faith in the U.S. election system. For young Black voters who cast their first ballots for former President Barack Obama in 2012, “it’s just gone downhill for them,” says Riebling. “They weren’t excited in the last election. They saw what happened with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote and not the electoral college. And so they’re just feeling helpless.”
When REVOLT’s VOTE or DIE! Campaign was first launched by Sean “Diddy” Combs in 2004, the goal was to make voting “cool” for minority groups, says Riebling. Now, given both the intense discouragement that many Black youth have felt during Trump’s first term and their ability to impact this election, the stakes feel much higher, she says.
On Oct. 16, Combs, who is REVOLT’s chairman, launched Our Black Party, a new political party that aims to empower Black Americans. In a series of tweets, Combs encouraged both Democrats and Republicans to join in the new party’s mission to “help advance a political agenda that addresses the needs of Black people.”With fears that another victory for Trump could result in a “race war” amongst Americans, he made it clear that the party’s “NUMBER ONE priority is to get Trump out of office.”
But as Humphrey pointed out at the town hall, Biden and the Black community also have a complex relationship. In 2008 and 2012, Black Americans played a pivotal role in the election and re-election of the Obama-Biden ticket. But being the deputy to the first Black president doesn’t give Biden a guaranteed in with this dynamic part of the electorate, young voters say.
In May, Biden apologized to Black voters for saying they “ain’t black” if they plan to vote for Trump. Many frustrated observers felt the comment suggested that the Black community are seen as a one-dimensional voting bloc in the eyes of the political elite. “We’re not a monolith and we’re not all going to vote one way,” says Torian Swayne, a 28-year-old Oregon resident who is part of the REVOLT online community. “By saying that, you’re dismissing any autonomy that we have altogether.”
Swayne says she chose not to vote in 2016 because she didn’t see any good choices in that election cycle. She is reluctantly planning to vote for Biden this year because, she says, “I don’t really feel like there’s a choice not to.”
As many Black youth struggle to navigate politicians’ intentions, the candidates continue to fight for their votes. Black and other minority turnout was lower in the national statistics and in key swing states during the 2016 election, according to the Brookings Institute. If just as many Black youth stay home this time around, the absence of their vote will hold just as much impact in determining what the next four years will look like as if they showed up to the polls.
And that’s precisely what REVOLT is trying to get young voters of color to do in two weeks’ time. “I think it’s easy to feel invisible in this world if you are Black and young,” says REVOLT COO Detavio Samuels. “But the people who are put in office today are literally going to determine your fate.”
(ROME) — Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary Francesco, which had its premiere at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.
The papal thumbs up came midway through the film that delves into issues he cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favor of civil unions as pope.
Director Evgeny Afineevsky had remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself. He said he negotiated his way in through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the pope via some well-connected Argentines in Rome.
What impact will the pandemic have on human security and human rights? I put that question to Sir Alex Younger, who until September headed MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. From an undisclosed location, he spoke of a technological race threatening the security and economic strength of liberal democracies. But 30 years in espionage, he said, convinced him of the power of human agency: “We created the things that divide us, and it’s in our power to solve them.”
Did you grow up wanting to be a spy? I don’t think I harbored a burning ambition to work in the secret world. The opportunity came to me, and if I’m honest, I prevaricated, because I understood some of the things it would involve and the moral and personal responsibilities.
It must have been at times a lonely existence, living a secret life.It is an unusual way of life, even if it gets normalized after 30 years. There is a risk of isolation, but because our work is secret, those of us who do it develop tight bonds.
Did it involve sitting at the dinner table, concealing things from your own family? We are never asked to conceal what we do from our partners. You do have to wait for the right moment before you bring your children in on the secret.
Actors pretend to be other people. But they do it on a film set, surrounded by a cast and crew who know it is a pretense. As a spy, how do you prevent that from damaging your personal integrity? There is a trope in the movies that this is a morality-free environment. Speaking for my former service, the opposite is true. You need to have a very developed sense of your values as a person, as a human being and as an organization.
Some people might not think the world of espionage has anything to do with the wider good.Not all intelligence services are the same. We seek to defend the values of our liberal democracy, and we understand that if we undermine those values we haven’t achieved anything. I reject the idea of a moral equivalence between us and our opponents. I don’t want to sound hubristic. We are not an NGO. But the satisfying fact is that protecting our country’s and our allies’ interests often puts us up against the geopolitical bullies of the world—the terrorists or the war criminals or the nuclear proliferators. We make life harder for people like that.
If I can press you on that a little. You served in Afghanistan. Does it trouble you that America is encouraging a peace settlement that will see the Taliban return to power, without guarantees on the rights of women? It’s always been clear to me that this is not the type of conflict for which there is a military solution. It has to end in dialogue. But the Taliban need to understand that Afghanistan is not the same as when they were in charge. The Afghan people, Afghan women in particular, have totally different expectations.
How much were you conscious of the people who don’t have a voice but are on the receiving end of insecurity, like refugees? We are paid to be dispassionate, but we are human beings, and we’re selected for our capacity to be able to empathize. It is impossible not to be profoundly influenced by the circumstances of the people we talk to and touched by the suffering that we encounter.
If what you do is secret, how are agencies like yours held accountable? Secrecy is not the purpose of what we do. It’s part of what we do, and it’s necessary because there are many brave men and women who agree to work with us whose only protection is our ability to keep their identity secret. But we are highly accountable. We don’t recruit from some extraterrestrial planet, we recruit members of the public who share the same values as you have, and that I have, and would simply not tolerate the types of breaches of law and values of which we are sometimes accused.
We are speaking because like many people, I’m trying to find answers and a path forward at this time. Do you see any possibility of regaining consensus on human rights and holding aggressors to account? My expectation is that we’ll have to find different ways of creating consequences for those who violate global norms. Our alliances are our great strength as liberal democracies. Other values systems don’t have alliances, they have clients. We have genuine partnerships.
In your six years as MI6 chief you never took part in a conversation like this. Why are you speaking now? Those of us who live in liberal democracies are at risk of underestimating how much agency we’ve got, how much power we’ve got to deal with the problems we face. I want to send a message that our fate is in our hands. We should have confidence in the things that make us strong: our institutions, our alliances and our capacity to innovate.
We’re approaching the election here in America, and hearing again about the possibility of foreign interference. How serious is the threat, and to what extent are countries like Russia to blame? Russia feels threatened by the quality of our alliances and, even in the current environment, the quality of our democratic institutions. It sets out to denigrate them, and it uses intelligence services to that end. It is a serious problem, and we should organize to prevent it. And not, by the way, by behaving like Russia but simply by calling out what we see. But we shouldn’t big up the Russian role, which does their work for them. And we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be distracted. Russia didn’t create the things that divide us. We did, and it’s in our power to sort them out.
Already there is the suggestion that China has emerged stronger from the pandemic, as other countries have struggled. How will China evolve? The Chinese government will do whatever is in the interests of the Communist Party. It seems very unlikely that as the Chinese economy matures, and growth rates slow, they will become more like us. On the contrary, I think they will seek to buttress their legitimacy by doubling down on nationalist ideology. We are going to have two sharply different value systems in operation on the same planet for the foreseeable future. We mustn’t be naïve. We need to retain the capacity to defend ourselves. We need to establish rules of coexistence, even when there is no love and precious little trust. We should use the weight of global problems to force statesmanship on all sides.
The internet and social media—people thought of them as very democratizing forces. Do you think the balance has tipped the other way?I think there was a feeling that because it democratized knowledge so effectively the internet would be on the side of free countries. I think we’ve all been through a grief process as we’ve worked out that actually it can be bent to the purpose of social control just as easily. If I had one message, it would be that our future security is going to lie in our mastery of the key emerging technologies; so artificial intelligence, quantum, synthetic biology, there are others. We invented all of these things, and, if we can’t stay at their cutting edge, it doesn’t really matter what else we do, our security environment will degrade. But, by contrast, if we can innovate, and remember we have been really successful at this in the past, I think we’ll have a secure future.
One of the issues is lack of trust in the information we receive. What can we do as citizens to better inform ourselves? Maybe I’m just a natural skeptic or just a trained intelligence officer, but what gives me a really bad feeling is when I’m reading an article and I start violently agreeing and feeling good about the fact that this person thinks the same as me. That’s incredibly comforting, but the first thing you should do in those circumstances is go and find an article espousing exactly the opposite point of view. I think there’s something about disciplining yourself into finding both sides of the argument, and avoiding the echo chamber. I think we should be training ourselves, training our kids. It should be part of our daily lives.
—With reporting by Simmone Shah and Madeline Roache
Even in a country that has suffered devastating terrorist attacks in the past five years, the macabre beheading of a schoolteacher Oct. 16 has stunned France, as politicians and regular citizens grapple with religious extremism in their midst—igniting a political battle that could threaten the prospects of President Emmanuel Macron.
Samuel Paty, a middle-school history and civics teacher, was on his way home from work Friday afternoon in a quiet suburban town north-west of Paris when an attacker cornered him on the street, and stabbed him repeatedly, before decapitating him. Witnesses say the killer, later identified as an 18-year-old of Chechen origin who came to France as a refugee, shouted “Alluha Akhbar.” “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down,” he wrote in a message briefly posted on Twitter, with a photo showing Paty’s severed head. Within minutes, the police tracked down the killer and shot him dead.
The gruesome murder—in retribution for Paty showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed —has cracked open a deep schism, that is rarely far from the surface in France. At issue is how the country’s 5.7 million Muslims—the largest Muslim population in the European Union—assimilate, or not, in a country whose constitution is based on an unyielding principle of secularism and which has seen multiple terrorist attacks by jihadists since 2015. Muslim leaders fear it will precipitate a crackdown that will deepen the divide between moderate and radical worshippers. “I fear that this attack will be the last drop that makes the water spill,” Hassen Chalghoumi, France’s best-known moderate Muslim cleric, tells TIME.
It also presents a steep challenge to President Emmanuel Macron, just 18 months before he faces re-election, that threatens to shift the national conversation to the turf of the country’s resurgent far-right. “This is the beginning of the grand maneuvre around the next elections,” says Emmanuel Rivière, CEO of the public division of the Kantar polling agency in France. The French leader is not well-suited to the current battle, he says; Macron faces a tough reelection contest in April 2022, for a second five-year term. “Macron is identified with the economy, with liberalism, with his international reputation,” he says. “He is not identified with crime and terrorism.”
The government has yet to address questions surrounding the police response to threats against the teacher. Eleven days before his death, Paty, 47, showed his eighth-grade students cartoons of the Prophet, taken from Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine notorious for lampooning religion that gunmen attacked in January 2015, killing 11 journalists. Paty’s students say he was giving a class on freedom of speech.
One Muslim student’s father posted a Facebook video denouncing Paty. That was then distributed by a self-proclaimed imam long known for his hardline Islamist views, along with the school’s address and Paty’s cell-phone number. Alarmed, Paty lodged a complaint with police. And yet the police failed to offer him protection—and indeed, when the killer surveilled the school last Friday, students are believed to have pointed out Paty to him. “Despite threats and calls for people to denounce the teacher, no one thought it could go this far,” one unnamed police source old Le Figaro newspaper after the killing.
The killing has been greeted with horror by many within France’s Muslim community. On Monday, Chalghoumi, who presides over the mosque in the largely Muslim Paris banlieue, or suburb of Drancy and has long promoted interfaith dialogue, visited Paty’s middle school, where a makeshift shrine of candles and flowers has grown over the past few days. There, he delivered a tearful speech about the “generation of hate” among French Muslims.
In schools that are largely Muslim, Chalghoumi tells TIME, many teachers now avoid discussing the Holocaust, despite it being part of the government curriculum, fearing the reaction from their students. “The moment you talk about the Holocaust they say, ‘it is for the Zionists,’” he says. “And it is impossible to talk about Charlie Hebdo in the banlieues.” After that attack in January 2015, he says, “many kids did not observe the minute’s silence in school.” He doubts that students will observe a minute’s silence for Paty either; the government has called for schools to mark his killing on Nov. 2, when students return from a two-week break.
Such frankness puts Chalghoumi under continual threat of attack, however. As we sit speaking in a café in central Paris, his two bodyguards stand close by, surveilling the room warily. “Without protection, I would have been dead long ago,” he says.
His fear now is that Macron’s government opts to crack down hard on those they deem to be extremists in response to rising political pressure. Conservative politicians here have seized on the murder as proof that the President downplayed and tolerated extremism, favoring liberalism over law-and-order crackdowns. “If the government had listened to us, maybe Samuel Paty would still be alive,” National Rally politician Sébastien Chenu said Monday.
The 2022 presidential election now seems likely to be fought over questions not just of law and order but also defense of the secularist principles that underpin society in France. Recent polls show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Macron neck-and-neck in a hypothetical run-off in the 2022 presidential elections. Le Pen’s party, the National Rally (former National Front), won more seats than Macron’s En Marche in France’s elections to the European Union parliament last year.
On Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers in the National Assembly, who had gathered for what they had billed as an homage to Paty, engaged in a heated debate over the killing. “The government systematically refused our proposals about radical Islamists,” said Damien Abad, leader of the conservative opposition the Republicans, listing several measures that Macron’s government had rejected, including shutting radical mosques and deporting some foreign Muslim clerics. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the government had successfully averted 32 terrorist attacks since Macron’s election in 2017. He accused Macron’s political foes of using the killing “to feed this polemic. It is not dignified under these circumstances,” he said.
On Wednesday the French leader presided over a solemn national memorial to Paty in the medieval courtyard of Paris Sorbonne University—the oldest in France. Officials at the Elysée Palace said on Tuesday that the university had been chosen as “a monument symbolic of the spirit of Enlightenment.”
Yet even as France mourned, the crackdown was already under way. On Tuesday Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin ordered shut a mosque in the heavily Muslim town of Seine-Saint-Denis, outside Paris, which had disseminated the messages targeting Paty. Later Tuesday Macron and Darmanin visited another largely Muslim suburb to discuss with local leaders how to combat extremism.
Paty’s death came just two weeks after Macron delivered a major speech against Islamic separatism, calling for an “Islam of Enlightenment,” and he now plans to accelerate a proposed new anti-extremism law, requiring imams to train in France, and crack down on organizations that spread extremist or separatist ideas. It would also increase public funds for Islamic studies, as well as improve the crumbling, low-income housing in the banlieues around Paris, which for years has been a hotbed of violence.
Such measures might help stave off political threats from Macron’s right-wing opponents, the liberal cleric Chalghoumi says. “How can there be integration?” he says. “There has to be mixing in the banlieues, and in schools first.” He alsosays he is sure it would also please many Muslims, even while it risks evoking strong hostility from others. “We want action,” he says. “We do not want flowers and candles.”
As a child, Tierra Price was mesmerized by Dr. Dolittle, portrayed by Eddie Murphy in the 1998 film—not only because he could talk to dogs and sad circus tigers, but because he was a person of color who treated animals. “That resonated deeply with me,” says Price, who wore an oversized white coat and carried around a stuffed Dalmatian for her first-grade career day. “I grew up thinking that I was going to be one of the first Black veterinarians because I had never seen any,” says Price, now 26.
There were no Black doctors at vet clinics near her Louisville, Ky. home or at the local animal shelter where she volunteered. Price didn’t see her first real Black veterinarian until she was 19 and participating in a veterinary program for minority undergraduates. By the time she started veterinary school, she felt like an outcast. In 2018, Price created an online networking group for Black vets just to connect and commiserate with people who looked like her. “I was going into a profession I didn’t really belong in,” she says.
<strong>“In this day and time, you don’t stay that way unless you’re ignorant to the fact that diversity is good.”</strong>Years later, not much has changed. Veterinarians are projected to be among the most in-demand workers in the next decade. As more people of all races own pets, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs for vets and vet technicians will grow 16% by 2029. Nearly 65% of white households have pets, 61% of Hispanic households have pets, and almost 37% of Black households have pets, according to the most recent industry data. Yet pet lovers are faced with a predominantly white world once it’s time to see a vet. Of the more than 104,000 veterinarians in the nation, nearly 90% are white, less than 2% are Hispanic and almost none are Black, according to 2019 BLS figures.
This spring, Kimberley Glover spent nearly two months searching for a Black veterinarian in Birmingham, Ala., to care for her 2-year-old puppy Stokely—named after civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael—and to serve as a role model for her two children, who attend predominantly white schools. After scouring the internet and Facebook groups for Black pet owners, she finally received a suggestion from a college classmate, but the clinic was too far away.
“I have given up the search, honestly,” says Glover, 46. “It just tells me there’s more work to do.” Price, who graduated from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in May and is now a veterinarian in Los Angeles, agrees. “We have so much catching up to do,” she says.
Stark disparities have permeated the vet world for decades, advocates say, long before George Floyd’s death in May sparked a national movement for racial justice. In 2013, the profession was dubbed the whitest in America. “It has always been a problem,” says Annie J. Daniel, who founded the nonprofit National Association for Black Veterinarians (NABV). “This was just the wake-up call.”
Despite youth outreach efforts at schools and community partnerships to grow the number of Black veterinarians, the group has barely moved the needle since it was formed in 2016. In fact, the number of Black vets dropped from 2.1% of the total vet population in 2016 to below 1% in 2019, which Daniel says is largely due to systemic racism. “In this day and time, you don’t stay that way unless you’re ignorant to the fact that diversity is good,” Daniel says. “Or,” she adds, “you just don’t care that you’re purposefully omitting a group of people.”
Many issues prevent the veterinary profession from becoming more diverse. Chief among them is a lack of access and exposure to veterinarians at an early age, particularly among children who live in urban or low-income areas, where pet healthcare is considered more of a luxury, advocates say. “It’s not that they don’t want to become veterinarians,” Price says, “but they don’t know that it’s a career option.”
Such was the case for Dr. Will Draper, 53, who didn’t live near vet clinics or animal shelters while growing up in a predominantly Black community in Inglewood, Calif. Differing cultural views on animals also limited his exposure to veterinarians. “I didn’t really have many pets growing up because my father didn’t like animals,” says Draper, who now runs his own practice in Decatur, Georgia with his wife. Draper loved animals, but he didn’t realize he wanted to enter the field until his father took him to see the College of Veterinary Medicine at his alma mater, Tuskegee University. The historically Black college has educated more than 70% of the nation’s current Black vets. Draper was hooked after one visit.
‘Mountains and mountains of debt’
For many others, getting into vet school and paying for it pose additional challenges. On top of requiring prospective students to complete a number of undergraduate prerequisite courses, which can be costly, many top vet schools require or recommend that applicants have hundreds of hours of clinical experience working with animals and licensed veterinarians. Even before the pandemic, Price says that was tough for applicants who don’t live near clinics or shelters, especially if they have to work to support themselves or their families. “A lot of the experience that you have to have to get into veterinary school, you’re not paid for,” Price says. “That really selects for populations that have the luxury of forgoing income.”
In 2019, veterinary students in the U.S. graduated with an average of $150,000 in debt, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Yet federal data shows the median annual wage for veterinarians in 2019 was about $95,000. Starting salaries were much lower. It costs graduate students attending in-state vet schools at Cornell University in New York and at the University of California, Davis upwards of $32,000 per academic year for just tuition and fees, according to the schools’ websites. Tuition for Tuskegee’s vet school costs more than $20,000 per semester. “When they come out of veterinary school,” Price says, “they’re under mountains and mountains of debt.”
While many young veterinarians are wracked with student debt, no matter their race, daily discrimination in the workplace is another job challenge. Draper—who stars in a reality TV show called Love & Vets on Disney Plus—is often the first Black veterinarian his clients have ever seen. In turn, at least two have refused his service. More than 30 years ago, Draper says an older white man balked when he saw that Draper was Black. The man insisted a white doctor treat his chihuahua, Tiny, who was suffering from congestive heart failure.
“He said Tiny doesn’t see colored people,” Draper recalls. He saved the chihuahua that day, but the man referred to Draper as “the colored doctor” for the next couple of appointments. “Nobody would have blamed me if I told that guy to screw off,” Draper says. “But that’s not what it was about.” When asked if clients have mistaken Draper for a technician or assistant, Draper laughs. “All the time,” he says, adding that they often insist on speaking to the clinic’s owner. “One time, I even said, ‘Hold on,’” Draper says. “I walked away and came back and said, ‘I am the owner.’”
For Black veterinarians and pet owners, systemic racism in the industry is the norm. That’s why Cheryl Kearney, 65, has no problem driving more than 50 miles to and from Detroit each time her 6-month-old kitten, Roger, needs to see a doctor. Kearney says she’s had negative experiences with her own white doctors speaking to her condescendingly, assuming that because she’s a Black woman, she wouldn’t understand their explanations unless they dumbed them down. Kearney says she couldn’t bear enduring that discomfort when it came to caring for her “baby” Roger, so she made it a point to find a Black vet. “It was a much more personal experience,” she says.
Dion Hobbs, a 46-year-old Houston financial advisor, also noticed that difference when he switched to a Black vet. Hobbs had been taking his 11-year-old dog Sadie to the same vet, who’s white, for more than a decade when Sadie cut open her back leg in June—her first major injury. Hobbs says he was disappointed with the clinic’s bedside manner during a vulnerable and frightening time.
“Competency wasn’t the issue,” he says. “I thought there would at least be a little bit more warmth in the conversion.” Hobbs says he doesn’t think race played a major role in what he considered Sadie’s chilly treatment, but he saw the experience as an opportunity to give his business instead to a Black veterinarian, who he says has shown more compassion. “If I’m going to spend my dollars,” he says, “why not have it go to someone who looks like me?”
An industry slow to change
When an industry is stifled by homogeneity, it can breed a culture of leaders often inflexible to change, advocates say. Amid a pandemic, when social distancing restrictions limited in-person appointments, some veterinarians criticized the AVMA for not tweaking its telemedicine policy, which discourages vets from prescribing medication or diagnosing new pet patients remotely except in emergency situations. The AVMA said it does not regulate or set laws that govern the use of telemedicine, but some vets say industry leaders should be better champions for changing those laws nationwide. For some, it was the latest example that the industry was not keeping up with the times.
<strong>“Pets need us. People need us, and aspiring veterinarians need us to drive a change for the profession.”</strong>“The veterinary industry, in general, has been very resistant to change in every facet,” Price says. Since July, nearly 6,000 people have signed an online petition, written by nearly a dozen multicultural advocacy groups, calling for the AVMA to take concrete steps to assess where it stands with inclusion issues and to ensure an equitable process for all. “Our profession could really benefit from more diversity because it brings creativity,” Price says. “It brings innovation and it brings new ideas.”
In a statement to TIME, the AVMA, which has more than 95,000 members, said it was “building on” efforts to “further infuse” inclusion into its programs and outreach. It added that it would develop new programs to bring leaders of color to the forefront and that it would work to amplify multicultural vet advocacy groups. In July, the AVMA approved the idea of forming a commission to assess diversity issues, but it has not yet been created. “Transformative change doesn’t happen overnight,” says AVMA President Dr. Douglas Kratt. “It will take an industry-wide, profession-wide collaborative effort to move the needle and to attract more young people to consider a career in veterinary medicine. No single organization can do this alone.”
Now, amid America’s racial reckoning, more leaders are pledging to step up. On Sept. 14, Banfield Pet Hospital, one of the nation’s largest employers of veterinary professionals, announced it would invest $1 million in diversity efforts and ensure at least 30% of its veterinarians and support staff are people of color by 2030. “This is absolutely just the start,” says Dr. Molly McAllister, Banfield’s chief medical officer. Banfield also gave $125,000 to help in-need Tuskegee vet students afford their schooling. “This is a critical time,” McAllister says. “Pets need us. People need us, and aspiring veterinarians need us to drive a change for the profession.”
A new vet school that opened at the University of Arizona in August is among those that have stopped requiring applicants to have a minimum number of hours of clinical experience. Instead, applicants can explain how they’ve found success in the face of hardship or how they’ve adapted to change. Of the 110 students in its inaugural class, 33% were minorities, officials say.
“We should not exclude someone from our profession just because they may come from an underserved community,” says Julie Funk, the vet school’s dean. “The very future of the veterinary profession is dependent on our ability to serve society as a whole.” Several other vet schools have recently hired managers to oversee diversity efforts or have donated to scholarships that help underrepresented minority students. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges says it reached a milestone in 2020 of having about 20% of its total enrollment consisting of racial and ethnic underrepresented minorities.
There’s no better moment for industry leaders to commit, advocates say. The demographics of the U.S. are changing, and so are those of pet owners. A record high number of Americans own pets, according to the American Pet Products Association trade group, with estimates ranging from 56.8% to more than 65% of U.S. households. Minority groups are fueling that growth, a 2019 study found. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of Hispanic pet owners increased 44%, the number of Black pet owners grew 24% but the white pet owner population went up only 2%, according to the study. At this rate, Daniel says, the industry could suffer financially if it doesn’t keep up with the needs of the changing pet-owning population.
“We have to do more,” Daniel says, “and this is the time.”