The Role of the Dental School Environment in Promoting Greater Student Diversity

In this article from a supplement to the Journal of Dental Education, one dental school details how it nurtured an environment of diversity over the past decade, resulting in enrollment of first-year underrepresented minority (URM) students more than tripling.

The goal of the dental school of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is to graduate dentists whose demographics mirror the state’s community. The population of Illinois is 15 percent African-American and 12 percent Hispanic/Latino. In 2002, URM students made up just 6 percent of the dental school’s first year class. That number rose to 19 percent by 2009, reflecting a period of intensive efforts to increase diversity at both the university and school level.

Diversity is a central theme of UIC. The university is engaged in numerous efforts to increase diversity, all guided by an extensive process of Diversity Strategic Thinking and Planning. The dental school fully participates in these university-wide efforts. In 2003, the dental school surveyed experiences of students, faculty, staff and patients to assess the extent to which the culture of the dental school itself supported diversity. Armed with this knowledge, the school then engaged in a dental school-specific strategic planning effort to improve the environment. Actions taken included establishing an infrastructure and programs to support URM dental students; involving the entire school in diversity and cultural competency efforts; recruiting URM faculty; establishing student professional organizations; and fostering student mentoring relationships through minority professional dental associations.

The UIC dental school has learned that creating a culture to promote greater diversity is an “evolving, multifaceted” process; consequently, the school continually monitors progress and adapts its efforts. The UIC dental school believes that other dental schools can use its successful model to adapt efforts to their own environments.