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Diversity commitment reinforced in apology

Diversity commitment reinforced in apology
Dr. Gist

In a landmark move that reinforces the American Dental Association’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive profession, the ADA Board of Trustees has issued a public apology to dentists for not strongly enforcing nondiscriminatory membership practices prior to 1965.

The apology comes in an open letter from ADA President Raymond F. Gist that is published in the Nov. 1 ADA News. It was also shared with the presidents of the Hispanic Dental Association, National Dental Association and the Society of American Indian Dentists during their quarterly collaboration meeting Oct. 28.

Insights from the National Summit on Diversity in Dentistry—held in June by the Hispanic Dental Association, the National Dental Association, the Society of American Indian Dentists and the ADA—helped set the stage for the apology. After the summit, the Board of Trustees began developing resolutions to keep the summit’s momentum going. In July and September, the Board approved eight resolutions that were designed to strengthen diversity and inclusion in the profession.

The Board of Trustees regularly studies diversity issues in the profession, most often through its Diversity Committee. The Board began planning the summit in early 2008, and the 2008 House of Delegates passed a resolution that funded the event.

The National Summit on Diversity in Dentistry marked a new era of collaboration for the organizations, and as a result, potential projects the organizations could pursue together were identified with the goals of improving diversity in the profession and leadership, and reducing disparities in the public’s oral health. (To read about the summit, visit

A key part of the event included deeply personal testimonials on the history of exclusion in organized dentistry.

“The past cannot be erased. It must be remembered and acknowledged so current and future dentists can move forward in a new spirit of collaboration to advance the dental profession and the oral health of the public,” Dr. Gist writes in the letter.

He also recognized Dr. Ron Tankersley, ADA immediate past president, and Dr. William Calnon, a past ADA trustee, past chair of the Board’s Diversity Committee and now president-elect, for their roles in helping to bring the summit and the resolutions to fruition.

In communicating with constituent society presidents and executive directors, ADA Executive Director Kathleen O’Loughlin wrote: “Addressed to dentists generally, the apology will undoubtedly be most meaningful to dentists from population groups that were most directly affected by past discrimination. Together, the ADA, constituents and components can take pride in having a highly diverse membership and take heart in having much to look forward to through the diversity of our membership.”

Since its inception in 1859 and continuing through the Civil Rights Era in American history, the ADA’s membership demographics reflected the racial segregation that existed in much of the country at the time. However, in 1958, the Association had begun taking steps to eliminate discriminatory membership practices. These actions included initiating a study of membership practices in response to an NDA resolution; requests that societies ensure bylaws contain no provisions that restricted membership based on race, creed or color; and adoption of a resolution stating that all qualified dentists should be able to become members of the ADA and its societies.

After passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 outlawing segregation in schools, public places and employment, the ADA took a stronger course of action. In 1965, the ADA House of Delegates adopted resolutions requiring that state and local societies eliminate discriminatory membership practices and report periodically to the Board on their progress.