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by Nathan Alexander, MAPP ’19, wildlife protection intern at The Humane Society of the United States

The MAPP program is the only program of its kind. It attracts diverse people, all dedicated to helping animals. Even with this shared goal, there is a huge range of perspectives present, and this has proven to be one of the program’s greatest strengths.

On a typical day, students are exposed to many subjects, from captive wildlife welfare to companion animal issues. Students in this program come from many backgrounds, and everyone is here to learn and share, as well as discuss subjects through unfamiliar lenses.

The MAPP program is rigorous, and support is vital to success. MAPP students rely on each other to gain clarity and insight, and everyone gets more out of the program when we help each other thrive. My peers have allowed me a portal into issues that I may not have explored deeply enough to fully consider. Whether dealing with shelter medicine issues, equine welfare, owner-animal relationships, animal cognition or any of dozens of other topics, we are fortunate to get to learn from each other.

Even in a small cohort, the passions shared embrace many subjects. Before this program, for example, I had underestimated the level of controversy surrounding pit bull type dogs. It wasn’t until studying this topic with peers who focus on pit bull issues that I realized how polarized this matter is and how opinions of pit bulls develop and express themselves. Viewpoints range from complete demonization of these dogs to acknowledging how stigmatization develops. Much of what I learned about pit bull controversies is rooted in the knowledge that was provided by my classmates. It is inspiring how, through listening and collaborating, we share interests and, in doing so, unlock new passions.

In addition to familiarizing myself with new subject matter, participating in respectful discourses is central to daily MAPP life. Not everyone’s beliefs are aligned, and when people disagree about a subject, it’s hard to maintain a structured dialogue. The MAPP program emphasizes respect, empathy and thoughtfulness as crucial to participation. We are constantly challenged to stay open to someone’s perspective while maintaining our own. This balance is difficult to find, and it was constantly demonstrated in our Wildlife in Captivity class.

In this class, opinions on the roles of zoos varied. Some students defended them, having worked alongside well-cared-for zoo animals and dedicated staff. Others saw them as entertainment hubs, capitalizing on captive animals. These differences of perspectives led to energetic discussions and, although it was difficult to reach conclusions, discussions were always respectful. We practiced thoughtful listening, a skill that is important because it facilitates how to navigate sensitive subject matter. It can be difficult, but the results are quite fruitful when considering such a controversial topic.

Discovering new passions, as well as learning how to respectfully participate is an element of the program that is always present. We have become more confident as we continue our education and deepen the relationships we have fostered here. This program is outstanding, and the lessons learned will be useful in whichever animal arena we choose to participate.