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Dental schools continue to embrace DEI

ANALYSIS: Despite healthcare shortage, schools focusing on ‘ideologically-driven initiatives,’ watchdog says 

Dental school educators are receiving prizes for their work focused on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” – even as a medical watchdog organization keeps warning against such initiatives.

Two new awards specifically for DEI in dental care were given to educators at the University of Buffalo and University of Colorado dental schools in recent months.

One to the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine came from the National Institutes of Health late last month, according to a university news release.

The New York school received $100,000 as the first recipient of the NIH’s inaugural Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize, the report states.

“We are honored and extremely grateful to be a recipient of this prestigious prize,” Latifa Bairam, director of equity, diversity, and inclusion for the UB dental school, said in the release. “Within the dental profession, representation is slowly changing to reflect our patient population. With support from the NIH, we are hopeful that our programs and initiatives will continue to support growth and change.”

The NIH praised the school for its mentoring program Support, Training, Early-Career Enhancement and Retention. The school also runs a Native American Pre-Dental Gateway Program.

The school’s media office did not respond to a request for comment from The College Fix this week via email.

The University of Colorado School of Dentistry also created a new award in the fall semester recognizing “faculty excellence in diversity, equity, and inclusion,” according to a university news release.

Kunjan Kakar, an assistant professor in the schools’ restorative dentistry program, was the first recipient, the release states.

Dental organizations promote DEI

Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs have become common at many dental schools, something the medical watchdog organization Do No Harm began reporting about in 2022.

That year, the American Association of Public Health Dentistry published a report stating dental providers “must center anti-racism” in their work, Laura Morgan from Do No Harm told The Fix in a recent email.

“More recently, we have seen where the West Virginia University Health Sciences division’s website promotes the DEI tenet of ‘health equity,’” Morgan said. “And, in Louisiana, the State Board of Dentistry is required to fill an at-large seat with a candidate who is selected ‘from a list of three black dentists certified by the board secretary to the governor.’”

The American Dental Association also promoted diversity initiatives in an October article, stating “dental schools are more diverse than they have ever been, but there is still work to do before the dental workforce reflects the diversity of the overall U.S. population.”

The ADA referred The Fix to the American Dental Education Association for comment last month when contacted about its support for DEI in education.

“The ADA is a voluntary membership organization for dentists with no oversight role in dental school curriculum,” the ADA told The Fix in an email.

The American Dental Education Association states on its website that diversity and inclusion are “important topics in dental education,” but “making them a priority on campuses and within the curricula remains a challenge for many dental schools and allied dental programs.”

The Fix reached out to the ADEA for comment twice in the past month but did not receive a response.

Schools embrace ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion’ programming

Many dental schools promote DEI on their websites and through administrators. For example, Marquette University School of Dentistry in Wisconsin employs an administrator specifically for diversity and inclusion efforts.

Teon Austin, who holds the position, told Marquette Today in January that his goals include creating “a framework of cultural humility” and  increasing “cultural competence” through policies and programs.

The Fix also found DEI commitment statements on the University of Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry, the West Virginia University School of Dentistry, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, Detroit Mercy Dental, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.

The Fix contacted Marquette University School of Dentistry, West Virginia University and University of North Carolina. The Fix asked about their recent DEI efforts and their treatment of students and staff who do not agree with DEI. None responded to requests for comment in the past month.

Morgan with Do No Harm told The Fix dental professionals who are members of their organization are concerned about these DEI efforts.

“Identity politics contribute nothing to the provision of safe, competent dental care,” Morgan said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has a shortage of dentists and dental hygienists. A November report by Kaiser Family Foundation estimated the dental health professional shortage is about 12,757.

“The dental profession is experiencing the same issues with provider shortages that the medical and nursing professions are experiencing; and, unfortunately, the same ideologically-driven initiatives,” Morgan said.

MORE: NIH spending $558,942 to apply critical race theory to opioid abuse treatments

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Georgia Lucas is a student of the University of North Carolina Pembroke majoring in nursing. She is involved in Students for Life of America and also writes for Campus Reform.