Cessation of Dissection at UVa

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Animal Justice Advocates at UVa is calling for an end to animal dissection within the Biology and Psychology Departments at the University of Virginia. Every year the University purchases the bodies and body parts of animals killed to be dissected in the name of education. It is essentially a requirement for students wishing to graduate with a major in Biology– often those on the Pre-Health track– to participate in dissections, or at least to engage with a classroom culture that emphasizes dissection as a fundamental part of university curriculum. This curriculum institutionalizes and normalizes violence against animals. In other words, the practice of dissection in the University promotes violence as pedagogically fundamental to the biological sciences. Therefore, we call the university to divest from dissection so that students may pursue an education without violence.

Dissection is unethical for many reasons. Dissection integrates violence into the classroom not only through the procurement of “specimens” but also through current pedagogy that inaccurately instructs students that such violence is necessary and just. This is an industry that traffics in the manipulation, exploitation, and killing of animals. The procurement of animal bodies for dissection is grounded, directly and indirectly, in violence against animals: in the taking of animals, who are then killed, from wild habitats; in the breeding of animals, who are then killed, in captivity; and in the breeding and killing of female animals in slaughterhouses, whose fetuses are then extracted. This practice is rarely contested because it is "tradition." But, as we all know, this university has a horrific history of promoting and teaching violence of various forms in the most dangerously uncritical ways in the name of tradition. Any tradition that teaches students that they must exploit others and commit violence must be banished from the university.

Ironically, science itself has produced efficacious alternatives to dissection, such as Virtual Reality and sophisticated animal models, widely available from free lending libraries, such as The Science Bank. Studies have shown that non-violent methods yield positive learning outcomes and equivalent levels of learning to traditional dissection practices. In addition, these reusable and sustainable alternatives would provide students the opportunity to gain experience with high-tech means of learning that could be valuable later in their career, all while reducing the cost of these programs through the elimination of expensive “specimens,” which must be purchased every semester. Shouldn't students at this university receive the best education possible, after all?

The elimination of dissection is supported by the University of Virginia’s own emphasis on progressive and cutting-edge research facilities. The University of Virginia has an obligation and opportunity to lead the way in ethical teaching and research and to set a precedent for American universities– a compassionate education that takes its effects on animals, humans, and the environment into account. While our goal, as the Animal Justice Advocates, is to eliminate all violence at the University, we find the cessation of dissection to be a pivotal step in this goal.