VCU School of Dentistry’s third-annual Inclusive Excellence Week took place Oct. 17 – 21. The week of in-person and virtual events presented speakers highlighting a variety of topics such as care for the marginalized and the impacts of housing policies on health outcomes. 

“Congratulations to Dr. Carlos Smith and his team for another successful Inclusive Excellence Week filled with knowledge, advocacy, and inspiration,” said VCU School of Dentistry Dean Lyndon Cooper, D.D.S., Ph.D. “I would also like to thank our presenters who shared their wealth of knowledge and expertise with us. I encourage our students and faculty to watch some of the discussions on our YouTube channel if they did not have the opportunity to watch live.”

Inclusive Excellence Week was conceived as an idea and concept upon the creation of the School of Dentistry’s DEI director role, back in July 2020. 

“It really began as a way to further cultivate educational awareness around why equity work in healthcare is so dire, so necessary,” said Smith. “With the pandemic raging and much front page news about health disparities, lack of understanding and mutual benefits of healthcare workforce diversity, and of course the racial reckoning globally following the murder of Mr. George Floyd – I sensed a great need, and our leadership agreed, to help our SOD community better understand issues of race, justice, equity, and belonging, and how these values are so paramount to the delivery of ethically informed healthcare.”

Inclusive Excellence Week recap

Day 1: Dental Discussion Series – Erma Freeman (D.D.S. ’77)

We kicked off Inclusive Excellence Week with a special Lunch and Learn with alumna Erma Freeman, D.D.S., (Class of 1977) VCU School of Dentistry’s first African American female graduate. Our students had the opportunity to learn about Dr. Freeman’s experiences as a dental student and her illustrious career that spanned five decades, including owning a dental practice for 20 years. They also had a chance to ask her questions during a Q&A session.   

Erma Freeman (D.D.S. ’77)

During the Lunch and Learn, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Ethics Curriculum Carlos Smith, D.D.S., M.Div., announced a new mini grant program in Freeman’s name. The Dr. Erma Freeman Oral Health Equity Mini Grant program will award 10 $500 mini grants annually to students, residents, faculty and staff.

Created by our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the oral health equity focused mini grants will assist with continuing to create an environment of inclusive excellence at VCU School of Dentistry by supporting programs, faculty and students to work and cultivate a sense of belonging and sustainability. 

The mini grants will help fund student, residents, staff and faculty projects that impact the local community and reflect the principles of social justice, community building, diversity and inclusion and sustainability. 

Applications will be released soon and evaluated for awarding by the School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, composed of staff, students and faculty.

Care for the Marginalized Amongst Us – LGBT+ Care and Advocacy – Colin Haley DDS, MEd

Colin Haley, D.D.S., M.Ed., clinical associate professor in the Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences Department at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry, joined Smith for the first virtual discussion of Inclusive Excellence Week 2022. 

Goals for the discussion were to understand how to prepare dental professionals to meet the oral health needs of the LGBTQ+ population, describe the current state of health affairs and access to care issues for this community and understand the principles of inclusive care and how to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ patients.

Haley is also associate director of group facilitation, providing oversight of all group-learning activities that occur during the pre-doctoral curriculum. Haley’s clinical practice focuses on the treatment of underserved members of the LGBTQ community including LGBTQ youth, the unhoused, HIV+ individuals and patients identifying as transgender.

Day 2: Clinical Work with Patients of Color Amidst National Race-Related Events – Paul Perrin, PhD

Paul Perrin, Ph.D., professor of data science and psychology at the University of Virginia (UVA), joined Smith for the second day of VCU School of Dentistry’s Inclusive Excellence Week 2022. Goals for this virtual event were to discuss some of the history of racism in U.S. communities and its present-day manifestations, consider how national race-related events affect the mental health of patients of color and highlight some tangible skills for addressing these events with patients and creating culturally supportive clinical encounters.

Perrin’s primary professional goal is to use data science to bring evidence-based behavioral medicine and mental health services to individuals with disabilities and chronic health conditions, particularly in minority populations in the U.S. and in underserved global regions. He also attempts to leverage as many aspects of his professional life as possible to fight for social justice against systems of oppression using data-driven approaches.

Day 3: Housing Policies & Impacts on Health Outcomes – Mariah Williams, M.U.R.P.

On day three, Smith welcomed Mariah Williams, M.U.R.P., for an engaging discussion about how 20th century housing policies impact present day inequity, micro and macro operations of racism and how they impact interactions with communities of color and understanding connection between where we live and health outcomes.

Mariah Williams is an urban planner, storyteller and researcher dedicated to highlighting the experiences of black people and spaces in cities. She received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Richmond and Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the founder of Finding Homeplace, a platform that highlights the work of black women in community development, discusses the history and legacy of inequity in black communities and reflects on black expression and resilience in urban landscapes. Her work on black joy, black women, and community has been featured in Next City, For Harriet, and the Third Wave Urbanism Podcast.

Day 4: Advancing Equity through Medical and Dental Integration – Lisa Simon, MD, DMD

On day four, Lisa Simon, M.D., D.M.D., joined Smith to discuss advancing equity through medical and dental integration. 

Goals for the discussion were to understand how the separation of medicine and dentistry has compounded health disparities, interpret data demonstrating the biological and social links between oral health and overall well-being and to describe new models of clinical practice that advance oral health equity.

Simon is a physician and dentist at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School. Her research and advocacy center on the health policy implications of the separation of medicine and dentistry. She is proud to practice both primary care medicine and dentistry in safety net settings.

Day 5: Are Cultural Images Fueling Our Bias? – Grace D Gipson, PhD

On the final day of Inclusive Excellence Week 2022, Grace Gipson, Ph.D., joined Smith to discuss cultural images and their influence on biases.

Gipson is a Black future feminist/pop culture scholar whose research explores Black popular culture, digital humanities, representations of race and gender within comic books, Afrofuturism, and race and new media. Her current book project seeks to explore Black female identities as personified in comics and fandom culture. A second project examines how online Black female academic and popular networks produce cultural and technical capital, which act as safe spaces that showcase, interrogate, and celebrate the blending of popular culture and the academy.

“I’m elated that the work has not only continued, but also garnered engagement across the broader VCU Health Sciences Campus, the overall VCU community, alumni and community dentists, as well as the larger dental education community through groups such as the American Dental Education Association and the American College of Dentists,” said Smith.

Watch all Inclusive Excellence Week events here.

Categories Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Schoolwide News