Jarod Johnson, a pediatric dentist, wrote a moving article in The Gazette on the need for the College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics at the University of Iowa to embrace values of diversity and free speech. Johnson, in writing his article, tells of his history at the college and the values it taught him. In his experience, he met with students of different ethnicities, with diverse experiences with dentistry, and engaged in open dialogue with them. It was these values that made him so passionate about embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion into his own practice, a practice that is open to all people regardless of their group identity, and about 70% of his patients are underserved. It is with these values in mind that Johnson expresses his sadness at an appalling situation in the college today, a situation which flies in the face of everything that he was taught and came to believe. This situation began when a student questioned an administrative decision. The reaction of the college was to charge the student with professional misconduct, a clear violation of free speech.
Johnson’s article comes in the wake of protests by 75 students of the college, who demanded greater equity and free speech, citing what they believe is a history of discrimination and bias within the college. Despite programs aimed at improving diversity, equity and inclusion, and a belief by the university that accountability has risen as a result of these initiatives, the students protesting at the college believe that the college has not been held accountable for targeting marginalized students. The students marched from the Old Capitol building to the college, and gave testimony about their experiences to the school. The protests were organized by students from the college through their organization, the Action UIowa Task Force. They detailed their grievances in a “Call to Action”, and have amassed 1,433 signatures in a petition as of 8 February, just shy of their target of 1,500 signatures.
The students argue that there is a culture of of discrimination and bias within the colege as a result of a number of factors, among them:
- An absence of diversity, equity and inclusion training for students, faculty, staff and alumni
- A dearth of recognition of the cultural contributions of marginalized groups
- A failure to create adequate processes to deal with accountability and compliance
- A failure to recognize or emphasize the systemic racism within dentistry and the pervasiveness of health disparities along racial lines
These failures have, according to the Task Force, resulted in difficulties in recruiting and retaining students from marginalized groups. The most salient demonstration of this is the profile of the incoming fall 2020 class, which is composed of 82 students, of whom only five are Black; six, Hispanic and one Native American.
In light of this situation, the Task Force made a serie of demands, among them that:
- That college should create an anonymous electronic reporting system to handle complaints and concerns.
- Revise existing professionalism guidelines and make them more explicit
- Set clear diversity, equity and inclusion expectations at orientation
- Make diversity, equity and inclusion training mandatory for college leadership.
- Review and revise the admissions processes.
Johnson ends the article by calling for healing and for all parties to come together in order to advance on the mission of the college to nurture the dentists of the future, dentists who can provide vital services such as TMJ treatment. He calls on the college leadership to apologize to all parties concerned for politicizing the situation and clamping down on free speech. Overall, he asks for progress toward a college that lives by the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.