Clifton O. Dummett Sr. Essay Competition: Diversity in Dentistry and Dental Education
22 Feb 21
Ed. Note: The following essay, written by Oluwaferanmi Balogun DDS ’24, was one of the awardees of the inaugural Clifton O. Dummett Sr. Essay Competition in which pre-doctoral students at select universities were invited to write about race relations in the dental profession.
AS A RECENT GRADUATE OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, having earned my Bachelor of Science in Public Health, my passion for dentistry and improved quality of life in diverse communities have always been indisputably interrelated. To state that Dr. Clifton O. Dummett, Sr. was a leader within the field of dentistry would be a grossly unjust underestimation of his impact and accomplishments during his lifetime. Dr. Dummett’s divine marriage of dentistry and public health shine through in his philanthropic words and actions. In reading his editorials, I felt his conviction and passion for diversity in dentistry and dental education; I heard my own voice whispering in accordance and empathizing with his proclamations.
In Editorial Number 39, “ . . . NOR YET THE LAST TO LAY TO OLD ASIDE”, he spoke of the unacceptable and seemingly stagnant progress that the dental health profession has consistently demonstrated in regard to “dignified inter-racial relationships”. He spoke with disdain of the so-called patriots of this country who employ their privilege to patronize the true American ideal. This editorial was particularly powerful to me, but what was most notable, in my opinion, is its title which articulated a message of its own.
The full quote, written by Alexander Pope in an essay on criticism in 1711, reads as follows: “Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”
Undoubtedly a man with intention, Dr. Dummett omitted the former of the phrase yet maintained the latter. This in itself spoke volumes of why diversity in dentistry and dental education is absolutely critical.
As the statistical minority within the field, we have to take the first steps – there is no other option. We must be our own advocates, catapulting change with our limited resources yet unwavering dedication to the betterment of our country and situation. We must deconstruct hundreds of years of oppression in order to rewrite the narrative for all suffering humanity, not just those who may look like us. We have to be the ones to respectfully request the consideration of sponsorship of resolutions and demand the elimination of racially restrictive institutions and societies.
Our privilege, rather, the lack thereof, leaves a small margin for waiting and forces us to just be. We must be the change we want to see in the world and break barriers though we did not stack the odds against ourselves. We must stay uncomfortable so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the promised equity that seemed to have gotten convoluted with ideas of race supremacy. In fact, we have to be the first by whom the new are tried so that we too can have a seat at the table.
The latter of the quote and the title of Editorial 39 reads “.. Nor yet the last to lay to old aside”. The power of these words lies in the fundamental understanding of legacy. We must not allow ourselves to be the last to try to make such instrumental changes. We can never stop employing ourselves to educate our youth and our peers. It is each of our job to communicate the benefit and impact that diversity in dentistry and dental education brings to our communities. This constant evolution and insatiable desire must never end. Dr. Dummett reminds us that we can never get comfortable, when we see injustice, it is our duty to challenge the social norms that are widely observed within our society and rededicate ourselves to the fundamental principle of humanity.
It is an absolute honor to attend the illustrious institution at which Dr. Clifton O. Dummett is a distinguished Professor Emeritus and taught dental history. I can only have wished to make his acquaintance and hear from him firsthand the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of his journey throughout his dental career. However, I am just as grateful to learn of his legacy and philosophies as they remain quintessential as we strive towards becoming a perfected people and profession.
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