Health Professions Advisor Views

We Must Speak to Racial Injustice

Posted by Carolyn Booker, Ph.D. on June 24, 2020

The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) does not tolerate discrimination in the review and evaluation of applicants to our dental programs. Nor does it accept or support the unfair treatment of African American students enrolled in our dental programs.

“I Can’t Breathe.” On May 25, 2020, the video recording of George Floyd, an African American, uttering those words as he died rocked our nation. The result: Massive protests in the United States and around the world. The result: African Americans express that they are tired of seeing African Americans being killed at the hands of police, are tired of being considered less than human and are tired of being treated as if their lives have no value. The result: African Americans express long-term fears and anxiety around police brutality, racism and injustice. The result: A more divided country. African American, Latinx, American Indian and all students of color enrolled in our dental programs and those applying are asking themselves, how will I be treated during this crisis?

Each year, ADEA receives close to 100,000 applications from over 10,000 individuals interested in applying to dental school. While the diversity of the applicant pool has not changed much in the past five years, what has changed is the diversity of perspectives of those applicants. These individuals apply to the 67 U.S. and Canadian dental schools participating in ADEA AADSAS, expecting to be received and reviewed based on what they are presenting in their application. We speak about and share with students that our dental schools participate in a “holistic review” process, meaning that all aspects (experiences, attributes and metrics) of an individual’s application will be taken into consideration in deciding who to invite for an interview and thus, admitted into a program, not the color of their skin. We want students to believe this and we want to believe it.

Around the mid-1990s, I began working in dental education as a recruiter and counselor. One major component of my job was to recruit African American, Latinx and American Indian students into the dental program. Often when I met with students, I got questions like, “How will I be treated at the school?”, “Is the faculty racist?”, “I heard they really don’t want Black students in the program.”, “Who will be there to support me?”, or “Is dentistry a good career for a Black person?” At times, I was surprised by the intensity and anger in the questions, confounded by the expressed fear of being treated unfairly and yet, comforted in that I was trusted with these questions. I always tried to provide thoughtful and honest answers to those questions. However, there were times when no matter what I said, students still did not trust that dental schools would treat them fairly and that dentistry was a good career choice for them. They stated instead that they wanted a profession that was more open and receptive.

Today, after what the country is experiencing, African American students who are currently enrolled in dental school, are planning to enroll this fall, and are in the application process, are wondering, “Did I or am I making the right choice about dentistry?” With over 20-plus years of working in dental education, I have seen how African American students have been treated at dental schools and as practitioners in the profession. In some instances, it has not been good. The questions that were asked of me in 1995 are no different than what students are asking today. In my current role with ADEA as the Senior Vice President of Educational Pathways, overseeing the application services for ADEA AADSAS, ADEA PASS, ADEA DHCAS and ADEA CAAPID, I feel it is important to say to these students that ADEA does not stand for or support racial injustice, racial profiling of students and/or applicants nor the unfair treatment of African American students. Applicants and students planning to enter dental school this fall want to be assured that:

  • The color of their skin will not be the factor upon which decisions around academic promotion, preclinical courses and clinical evaluations are based.
  • They not are ostracized for speaking out about injustice.
  • They are not deemed unqualified because they earned a “C” in biology and,
  • The dental program they choose to apply to or/have enrolled in isn’t doing just “lip service,” but truly is a welcoming and supportive place.

There is a lot to talk about and work through during the next few months/years while we as a nation respond to the current crises—a pandemic and national unrest as a result of police brutality and the treatment of African Americans. I would like to reiterate that ADEA does not tolerate discrimination in the review and evaluation of applicants to our dental programs. Nor does it accept or support the unfair treatment of African American, Latinx and American Indian students enrolled in our dental programs. Students applying to our dental programs and those who are currently enrolled can be assured, ADEA stands with you.

About Carolyn Booker, Ph.D.:

Carolyn Booker, Ph.D.

Carolyn Booker, Ph.D.

Senior Vice President of Educational Pathways

American Dental Education Association

Carolyn Booker, Ph.D. serves as the Senior Vice President of Educational Pathways for the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).  Serving in this role she manages the centralize application services for four ADEA programs: ADEA AADSAS (ADEA American Associated Dental Schools Application Service), ADEA PASS (ADEA Postdoctoral Application Support Service), ADEA CAAPID (ADEA Centralized Application for Advanced Placement for International Dentists) and ADEA DHCAS (ADEA Dental Hygiene Centralized Application Service) and is responsible for all recruitment and outreach programs and initiatives. 

Previously, Dr. Booker worked as the Associate Dean of Students and Administrative Faculty Affairs and Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.  During this period she administered all student services activities and faculty affairs, supervised financial aid services, served as the course director for Ethics and Professionalism, and administered elementary, middle, high school and college enrichment programs.  She has provided presentations on holistic admissions, dentistry as a career option, how to successfully manage a health professions curriculum, professionalism, communications and multicultural competency skills. Carolyn has been actively involved in several professional associations such as the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP), American Counseling Association (ACA), The American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA), and the Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD).  She is a Past-President of the National Association of Medical Minority Educators (NAAME).