Guest Columnist

College of dentistry needs diversity and free speech

Protestors gather during a #x201c;Put DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) in DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery)#x201d; protes
Protestors gather during a “Put DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) in DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery)” protest/walkout at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Recently I have watched the situation at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics unfold and have remained silent. As a proud graduate and an adjunct faculty member in Pediatric Dentistry, and Preventive and Community Dentistry, I cannot do so anymore. It saddens me that such a great and well-respected institution is going through this difficult time. I have a pit in my stomach and a hole in my heart. The current situation is a threat to our statewide and national reputation.

I have always felt the college was inclusive of teaching equality and acceptance during my educational experience. I remember that Dr. McQuistan was able to enrich a variety of classes to include discussions about differences between ethnicities and their attitudes toward dental care. I personally have carried the lessons I learned at the college about diversity, equity, and inclusion into my private dental practice.

I have established a practice in Muscatine and am proud to accept everyone regardless of their beliefs, values, sexual orientation, or race. I treat a diverse group of individuals and approximately 70 percent of my patients are underserved. We treat all our patients the same and deliver high quality dental care regardless of their background.

The college has continued to strive to offer diversity training through their curriculum with courses available to students on the topics that were not available when I was a student. I have also been able to take a continuing education course that was given by the college that focused on inclusion relating to sexual orientation. The course gave me an understanding of how to offer better care for individuals who have a different sexual orientation than my own.

It is unfortunate that a student who had questions about an administrative decision was going to be brought up for professional misconduct for practicing free speech. Fear of being disciplined for practicing free speech or bringing forth a concern should have no place in any educational institution. I also completely understand how those who are advocating for diversity feel silenced sharing their concerns about inequalities.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and freedom of speech are core values that help enrich the dental education provided at the college. I would like to call on all the students, faculty, and staff to unite and heal. The college should be a place where everyone is treated with respect, dignity, and equality, but also feel able to speak up if something is not right regardless of their differences in opinion or ethnicity. We must be able to respectfully accept that it is OK if someone does not agree with our viewpoint. It is time to put personal political beliefs to the side and focus on the educational mission of the college. It will take great leadership to heal and unite the college from the situation that has unfolded.

I call on the administration to apologize to the students, faculty, and staff for putting political opinions into statements, and to the student who was threatened to be disciplined for practicing free speech. The administration must also develop a vision which is inclusive of diversity, equity, inclusion, and free speech. Through these actions a healing process will begin to unite us so we can focus on the educational mission of the college.

Jarod Johnson, DDS, is a pediatric dentist practicing in Muscatine.

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