Champions in science and prose

Dental students win essay awards highlighting race relations in dentistry
February 10th, 2021

D3 Linda Asiamah and D1 Madison Jenkins’ essays recently won in the Clifton O. Dummett Sr. Essay Competition.

A penchant for writing doesn’t always top a science-focused student’s list of best skills, but these dental students showed their right-brain strength with winning essays.

D3 Linda Asiamah and D1 Madison Jenkins recently won Magna Honors in the Clifton O. Dummett Sr. Essay Competition on Diversity in Dentistry & Dental Education. The inaugural competition—open to 15 dental schools nationwide, including Texas A&M College of Dentistry—was co-sponsored by the UCSF School of Dentistry and the UCLA School of Dentistry. Organizers hope to include even more dental schools next year.

The awards were announced on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Overall, 30 essays won awards, with two Summa Honors, 13 Magna Honors and 15 Honors.

“Writing has always been a strength of mine, but I must admit I was a little rusty at first,” says Jenkins, who graduated with a biomedical sciences degree from the University of Houston and attended Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas. “This was the first essay I’ve written since graduating from college.”

Predoctoral dental students were asked to write 750 words about race relations in the dental profession and dental education based on four editorials published in the Bulletin of the National Dental Association from 1953 to 1975. (The NDA is the oldest and largest professional organization for minority dental health care professionals.) The competition challenged them to “relate a compelling story that is relevant to contemporary events.”

“I was surprised from the material that the American Dental Association didn’t allow Black people to join local chapters until the mid-’60s,” says Asiamah, who moved to the U.S. from Ghana when she was 10. “I didn’t actually think of myself as ‘other,’ because I grew up where the population is homogenous. I didn’t really think about being Black until I moved to the U.S.”

Clifton O. Dummett Sr., a periodontics professor, was the youngest dental school dean in U.S. history when he accepted that position in 1949 at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, Tennessee. His career also took him to Chicago and Los Angeles. He was a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California and a past president of the Los Angeles Dental Society. He passed away in 2011.

Jenkins says she thought the writing challenge would be the perfect way to learn the history of Black dentists and “monumental changes they made in this profession.”

“As a future Black dentist, I believe that it is my responsibility to learn about this history so that I am equipped with the knowledge to encourage the appreciation of diverse perspectives and confront health disparities,” Jenkins says.

Writing isn’t a huge stretch for Asiamah, who tries to journal every day and is the newsletter editor for the school’s American Student Dental Association student organization. She admits she’s the kind of writer who waits until the last minute but has a way of cranking out a stellar piece.

She won her first essay contest while a student at DeBakey High School for Health Professions in Houston, where she was on the yearbook staff. She also was the editor of an opinion magazine while attending the University of Texas at Dallas.

“The competition deadline was around finals week, so I considered not participating at all,” Jenkins says. “I’m really glad I did, though.”

— Kathleen Green Pothier