NYU Dentistry Creates Task Force After Students Raise Concerns

In response to a newsletter addressing racism at NYU's College of Dentistry, the new Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion aims to address these problems. Concerned community members feel anti-racist actions should be taken in addition to properly address ongoing issues within the College of Dentistry.

NYU College of Dentistry is located at 345 E. 24th Street. Recently, the school's student organizations have created a newsletter addressing racism on campus. (Photo by Min Ji Kim)

As the country continues to focus on the persistence of racial inequality, NYU College of Dentistry’s Dean Charles Bertolami created a task force to address and uphold a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. Many administrators and students WSN reached out to declined to comment out of fear that their professional careers may be at stake by expressing their opinions and experiences. The college’s Hispanic Student Dental Association did not respond to WSN’s request for comment.

NYU Dentistry has aimed to promote diversity and listen to concerns through the Plenary Council — approximately 250 volunteer members, staff and students who listen to concerns, facilitate conversations and provide mentorship. Since 2017, the College has created diversity recruitment initiatives, with a five-year plan investing approximately $14 million to recruit faculty and students from underrepresented backgrounds.

NYUCD faculty submitted a report and testimonials to the deans, with students creating a similar report sent to the college community. On Bertolami’s community email from June 11, these reports resulted in the creation of the task force — NYU Dentistry’s most recent diversity initiative. Associate Dean John McIntosh and Assistant Dean Dr. Eugenia Mejia will lead the Task Force as chair and co-chair, respectively.

“We will conduct a climate assessment of diversity issues to get accurate feedback on what the environment is truly like for people of color,” McIntosh said. “This assessment will include a review of NYU Dentistry results from the University-wide culture survey, abbreviated anonymous surveys, individual interviews, and focus groups designed to get a full picture of [NYU Dentistry’s] strengths and weaknesses.”

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Bertolami acknowledged the “national crisis” briefly in a community email on June 4 before extensively detailing NYUCD’s reopening plans. Like many concerned community members, third-year dental student and Student National Dental Association member Meredith Louisville felt the response lacks substance.

“The way I see the George Floyd situation and Black Lives Matter, nicely worded emails and all that type of stuff just doesn’t do a lot for me,” Louisville said. “I would rather them do some action and do something serious besides just sending out, ‘Oh, we’re sorry and we don’t condone this type of behavior.’”

Currently in its early stages, the task force aims to select a combination of students, faculty, administrators and staff. While some members of NYU’s SNDA and HSDA are on the task force, they have yet to meet.

“All Task Force members will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement designed to protect the privacy of individuals and information provided to the Task Force,” McIntosh said. “Members do not have to complete any training or take an oath.”

SNDA and HSDA jointly created a newsletter called “Racism and Inequality” in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests to educate their community. As health care professionals, they believe it is a moral responsibility to be culturally competent. 

SNDA — the student branch of the National Dental Association — is the historically Black dental association originally founded in 1925 for African American dentists who were barred entry into the American Dental Association. While those standards have since dissolved, NYU’s SNDA remains to foster community, mentally support student dentists and improve the livelihoods of all minorities with a focus on Black students.

Fourth year dental student David Onyirimba — former president and current treasurer of NYU SNDA — believes focusing on the NYU community would be a great way to spark new conversations.

“The motivations behind that letter was to continue on the wave after the passing of George Floyd,” Onyirimba said. “While the spotlight was on race and racial relations in the country, we thought it would be a good idea to see where we could start in our own communities.”

The newsletter states that out of approximately 1500 students, only 3% of the College of Dentistry student body identify as Black. It also featured anonymous personal experiences shared by dentistry students where other students and faculty members discriminated against them. While Louisville enjoys studying at NYU, she feels taking action in response to those experiences will make the College of Dentistry even better.

“I think for the most part when other students or faculty make comments to other people in the [Black] community, it’s more of just like microaggressions coming from an ignorant place,” Louisville said. “And I feel like when I was in lab, one faculty member wouldn’t help me. She would definitely prioritize her own ethnic group and dismiss me very fast when I would ask for help.”

Onyirimba hopes to see not only NYU, but all organizations, have difficult conversations about racism as they serve to move the country forward and heal from its past. He believes these difficult conversations will help people be better people overall — no matter what profession they join.

“We talk a lot about diversity in this school,” Onyirimba said. “We’re very proud of it at this university — we wave it almost like a flag. But I think it’s because of the sacrifices of the Black community in the past that we have diversity. And for some reason that gets swept under the rug.”

If someone has been racially targeted by a classmate, administrator or faculty, they can contact [email protected].

Email Roshni Raj at [email protected]

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