It’s OK to not be ok – Continued [racialized] violence and why dialogue matters in the journey to racial equity and inclusion

By Carlos S. Smith, D.D.S., MDiv, FACD

Director, Diversity Equity and Inclusion; Director, Ethics Curriculum

Many in the dental profession are known to be high achievers – rightly so, navigating the landscape of both dental and dental hygiene education as well as the life of clinical practice, is a serious matter. But where does the healer go when they find themselves in need of healing? What does the perfectionist do amid circumstances that seem far from any logical footing?

With continued violence and trauma played out literally before our eyes – Atlanta and the rising anti-Asian hate that has taken place throughout the pandemic to a mass shooting in Indianapolis and active shooter in Austin to continued violence in Chicago and even Kenosha, Wisconsin, the constant barrage of news cycle tragedy takes its toll – on all of us. Faculty, staff, students and even patients are affected.

2020 and now 2021 have seen the United States battle a global pandemic as well as face palpable racial tensions long brimming right underneath our political veneer of civility. Worldwide calls for racial equity (both specific to health care and also more generally speaking) over the last year have been much attributed to a single catalytic event, the very public death of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin in June 2020. While the Chauvin trial has come to an end and we await a verdict, the overwhelming disproportionate killing of African Americans as a result of police brutality has not halted. The list of names continues to grow, most recently Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy, have been added to the plethora of social media hashtags – all fatalities of police violence.

The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and most recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have all made the case for understanding racism as a matter of public health. What is also clear – marginalized communities are doubly harmed by police violence because of the compounded effects of witnessing and experiencing intergenerational trauma. This trauma actually affects us all – irrespective of race, but studies (UPenn, Journal of Social Issues, and Psychology Benefits Society)  have shown a disproportionate harm to our community members of color. 

So why make mention of this in a dental school environment?

  • Oral health is health. We are health care providers, staff and students – we are  advocates for improved health outcomes for all. This is not limited to the oral cavity.
  • It matters for us. None of us exists in an impenetrable vacuum. What we experience and endure outside of the workplace, shows up in the workplace. The framework below, from the National Academy of Sciences, shows quite clearly that myriad factors – society and culture being one, learning and practice environment being another – affect how we show up each and every day in our work and educational spaces.
  • It matters for our patients. Our patient demographic is diverse and inclusive. As the framework above shows, patient well-being is predicated on the clinician-patient relationship which is predicated on clinician well-being. If we aren’t well, can our patients really be? Our patients also show up in our dental operatories as more than #2-DO or extraction of #13 – there is more than a tooth or procedure in your chair, that tooth is attached to a whole person – with lived experiences, fear and even trauma.

What can one do? 

  • Be kind 
  • Show grace 
  • Think of another’s perspective 
  • Be slow to dismiss the lived experiences of those whose shoes you have not, and may likely never, walk in 

Is the joke actually funny or cruel? Is the comment or analogy destructive to someone around you? Do you really know what another is feeling or experiencing? 

We must continue to educate ourselves and do the hard work of consistently examining our own biases, and then we must engage in our communities in ways that are constructive, respectful and inclusive of others. 

We thank you for your compassion and support for those in our community who may be suffering during this period. 

We must never forget that the School of Dentistry is a community with many members

who live in dread that the color of their skin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and religion make them targets of hate and worse. We must support each other as we move forward in our continued journey of inclusion and belonging.

Again, it’s OK, to not be ok.


Employees can obtain help from the School of Dentistry Human Resources Office and/or VCU Employee Relations.  

In addition, the following resources are available to all students, staff, and faculty at VCU:

Division of Inclusive Excellence  (

University Counseling Services (

Wellness Resource Center (

The VCU Dean of Students, Dr. Reuban Rodriguez (

Equity and Access Services and Title IX Compliance (

VCU Employee Relations ( or 804-828-1510)

VCU Dental Care Employee Relations (804-828-8873)

VCU Ombudsperson (

VCU Helpline (

VCU Employee Assistance Program (

VCU Dental Care Employee Assistance Program (1-800-327 2255)

Categories Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, News, Public Health, Schoolwide News, schoolwide news
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