ODIB Blog

October 14, 2021

Dear HSDM Community,

October 15th marks the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions and achievements of Hispanic Americans to our communities. As we conclude this month, it is important to reflect upon how we are serving, advocating, and celebrating the Hispanic community that is an integral component of our institution and our country.

Hispanics make up a substantial portion of our country- over 60 million people in the United States identify as Hispanic American- yet this population continues to be underserved. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011-2016 reported that the prevalence of dental caries in primary teeth among children aged 2-5 years was 32.9% in Mexican American children compared to 7.9 in white, non-Hispanic children. The study also found that in adolescents aged 9-12 years, the prevalence of untreated decay in permanent teeth is 20.8% in Mexican Americans while the prevalence is 15.6% in white, non-Hispanic adolescents. Although economic barriers largely impact a patient’s decision to seek care, it is social and cultural barriers that often detract patients from receiving the help they desperately need. The misdistribution of dentists and the lack of representation of Hispanics in the dental field is particularly troublesome. Even though Hispanics make up 18.5% of the US population, only about 5% of all dentists are Hispanic. The field of dentistry and dental schools must commit to diversifying the dental workforce to train more health care professionals that are better prepared to provide care for these communities and are committed to return to these underserved areas. Recruiting Hispanic students is not the only option. Establishing cultural humility training and providing context for Hispanic and Latino matters within our curriculum can capacitate our providers to provide quality care for these patients. Investing in communication tools and services can help us better understand patient needs when providers and patients don’t share the same language or background. It is our shared responsibility to advocate for Hispanic patients.

HSDM has made its commitment to the Hispanic community more evident than ever. Efforts made by the Office of Admissions and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion have resulted in a record number of Hispanic students currently being trained at our institution. The upcoming re-establishment of a Hispanic Student Dental Association chapter at our school further demonstrates the eagerness of students, faculty, and staff to celebrate and learn about Hispanic culture. 

Further reading:

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
(Written by Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Ambassador Laura Pesquera Colom, DMD 2023) 

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July 14, 2021

Dear HSDM Community, 

July marks National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, a time to spread awareness and education regarding craniofacial birth defects including cleft lip, cleft palate, and craniosynostosis. Each year, approximately 2,600 babies are born with cleft palate and 4,400 with cleft lip in the United States, which can lead to impaired feeding and language development as well as psychosocial concerns. These children may also be at an increased risk for ear infections, hearing issues, and dental problems such as missing or impacted teeth. With treatment, most children do well and can lead a healthy life, however, healthcare costs associated with treatment are high and can pose a substantial financial burden for these patients and their caregivers. For privately insured children with orofacial clefts, the mean and median healthcare costs are approximately eight times greater than the costs for children without a cleft. Treatment requires a multidisciplinary team of specialists and the number of interventions needed can vary from three to more than twenty surgeries. Children born with orofacial clefts may also require additional specialty services, such as orthodontics or speech therapy. 

A study in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrated that self-rated oral health related quality of life was lower in children with cleft lip and palate representing ethnic minorities and in children without health insurance. Because insurance coverage has historically been sparse for services such as orthodontics, implants, and secondary lip revisions, individuals without insurance may face insurmountable financial barriers when accessing treatment options for orofacial clefts. Not only this, but studies have shown that Black, Hispanic, and Asian patients undergo cleft palate repair at significantly older ages than White children, which can lead to impaired speech performance, literacy delays, and difficulty in school. Contributing factors to these disparate outcomes include healthcare affordability, access to transportation, geographic location, patient and provider concordance, and provider bias. With this in mind, it is important for oral health providers to educate patients on the prevention and management of cleft lip and palate as well as to provide timely referrals, particularly for patients from marginalized backgrounds. Several states have also increased the number of dental providers who participate in Medicaid by increasing reimbursement rates, resulting in higher utilization of care by low-income children

In hopes of spreading awareness and focusing on prevention, healthcare providers should educate patients who are considering pregnancy about the impact of diet and lifestyle choices on the developing fetus. While the cause of orofacial clefts is unknown among most infants, it is thought that both genetics and environmental factors play a role. According to the CDC, women who smoke during pregnancy, women diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy, and women who take certain medications to treat epilepsy during the first trimester have an increased risk of having a baby with an orofacial cleft

It is important to educate patients not only about risk factors, but also about the management of cleft lip and palate, as delayed age at treatment has been associated with more adverse sequelae and higher hospital costs. Providing timely referrals for patients with cleft lip and palate is imperative, enabling an interdisciplinary team to meet the variety of medical and dental needs associated with orofacial clefts. Moreover, social workers, counselors, and support groups can be beneficial for these patients and their families in addition to the support we provide as dental providers. 

For more information about National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, please visit: https://acpa-cpf.org/2020/05/28/mark-your-calendars-for-national-cleft-and-craniofacial-awareness-month/ 

Sincerely, 
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Olivia Watrous, DMD23

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June 15, 2021


Dear HSDM Community,

Juneteenth, short for June 19th, is an important holiday in the United States, as it marks the official date of slavery ending in the USA. Some Americans falsely associate slavery’s abolishment with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared more than 3 million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. However, it was not until June 19, 1865, 2 and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, TX, declaring “...an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” This was the first time Texans learned of the abolishment of slavery. The former slaves immediately rejoiced and celebrated with festivities and cheer. In subsequent years, the holiday quickly spread to other states. Each year, its traditions consist of prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing.

More and more institutions are beginning to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. In fact, this is the first year June 19th is celebrated as an official Massachusetts state holiday. Despite being considered a celebration of the abolishment of slavery, we need to be reminded that this holiday doesn’t symbolize the eradication of acts of racism and suppression. After Juneteenth, they continued to resurface in other legalized forms such as the Jim Crow Laws, laws enforced to uphold racial segregation until 1965. They forbade African Americans to enter public spaces such as restrooms, theaters, or restaurants, in addition to preventing the Black community from living in white neighborhoods.

In my experience with U.S. history courses, Juneteenth was unfortunately either glossed over or omitted. However, amidst the justice demonstrations on police brutality last summer with Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other victims, it felt as if the awareness for the holiday increased immensely. Juneteenth took on a deeper significance as Black Americans actively fought for justice attempting to close the gap for freedom. The holiday felt more timely and relevant than ever, and further brought the country’s attention to the current systemic impact that racial injustice continues to have on Black communities. Systems continue to treat Black Americans differently in all regards, from employment to education, to homeowner loans to police interactions.

Clearly, the fight for civil rights is still an ongoing battle. Juneteenth serves as a celebration of Black culture and history, but also as a reminder of the harsh treatment enslaved Black Americans endured for centuries and the work that remains to achieve full equality for the Black community.

Here are some opportunities to commemorate this historic date:

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Franklin Zhang, DMD23

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May 5, 2021

 

Dear HSDM Community, 

 

The month of May marks Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. First introduced to the American cultural fabric as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week in the 1970s, the celebration of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans and their contributions was eventually expanded to the full month of May in the 1990s. The month of May was symbolically chosen to commemorate the first immigration of Japanese people in May of 1843 and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in May 1869, a feat only made possible by Chinese laborers [1]. It is important to acknowledge that Asian and Asian American impact precedes even these times, with the first Filipinos documented in present-day California as early as 1587 [2] and Indians as early as 1635 in Jamestown [3].  

 

Despite their long history as a part of the U.S. fabric, Asian Americans have long faced xenophobia and stigmatized as “Perpetually Foreign.” The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was significant as the first legislation to restrict immigration and prevent the naturalization of Chinese immigrants (followed later by the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924) [4]. Japanese Americans remain the only U.S. citizens to be interned in concentration camps by their own government. It is also not insignificant that Asians remain the only people group who have ever been nuclear bombed–not once, but twice. When history is understood in this larger narrative regarding the mistreatment and othering of Asian Americans, recent Asian American hate crimes [5]–many even since the mass shooting in Atlanta this March–can be understood not as one-off events but rather the unfortunate yet natural continuations of U.S. cultural dogma.  

 

Yet, progress must be celebrated. Kamala Harris made history as the first African American and Asian American Vice President this year. As the largest growing racial or ethnic group, Asian Americans are currently slated to become the largest minority group in the U.S. by 2060. Greater Asian American representation socially has also been seen through the Academy Awards winning Parasite, Minari, and Crazy Rich Asians, providing an avenue to tell nuanced Asian American narratives that deviate freely from the confines of the Joy Luck Clubs of the past.  

 

Despite Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders tracing their ancestry to 50 different countries, they are still often all clumped into a single “Asian American” monolith, especially in the world of public policy and academia. Reducing this diverse group into a single group can fail to acknowledge different social, health, educational, and economic differences, especially those that are less well-represented even within Asian-America, such as Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (even the increased Hollywood representation listed above is limited to East Asian Americans). In academia, data disaggregation is one such solution to increase underrepresented minority representation, not solely for Asian Americans [6]. With recent increases in anti-Asian American hate, there is no dearth of ways to show your support for the Asian American community and their unconditional belonging in the American fabric. 

 

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Jeremiah Kim, DMD23

 

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April 7, 2021

 

Dear HSDM Community, 

                 

The evening of April 7th through the evening of April 8th marks Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) or also known as Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, a day of remembrance for the roughly six million Jewish people who were murdered at the hands of the Nazi regime. This day corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar and marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an armed uprising where several hundred resistance fighters in the ghetto* managed to fight off the Nazis for nearly a month to prevent deportation. 

 

The first commemoration of Yom HaShoah took place in Israel in 1949 and was officially instituted as a National Day of Remembrance by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament and legislative body in 1951. Abroad, Yom HaShoah is typically commemorated through memorial services, vigils, and through Holocaust-related educational programs, often on the Sunday closest to or near Yom HaShoah. In Poland since 1988, there has been an annual three-kilometer walk known as the “March of the Living” from Auschwitz to Birkenau, with the larger goals of fighting indifference, racism, and injustice. In Boston, we have the New England Holocaust Memorial, right next to Faneuil Hall and Boston’s Freedom Trail, and was dedicated in 1995. The six glass towers that comprise the memorial symbolically represent the number of Jewish people killed in the Holocaust, the names of the six main death camps, and serve as a row of memorial candles to remember the victims.  

 

This continued act of remembrance grows ever more important as the last of the Holocaust survivors pass on over the coming years and the events of the Holocaust fade more into history. Recent surges in anti-Semitism, as seen in the Capitol riots this January, point to the dangers when we as a society fail to remain vigilant. We must remember the Holocaust and those that faced their deaths due to prejudice, discrimination, and generalized apathy. We cannot tolerate such evils again. But in an ugly turn of events, the world today has turned a blind eye to the Uighur concentration camps, where ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted once more.  

 

There is much work to be done to help create a world free from hate and bigotry and we each have a role to better educate ourselves and advocate for others.   

 

Actionable Steps: 

 

*While the term ghetto and its associations with the Jewish people have its origins dating back as early as the 16th century, the word has since evolved a derogatory connotation in the U.S. associated with African Americans neighborhoods and poverty. You can learn more about the history of racist housing policies that have played a role. 

 

Sincerely, 

Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Jeremiah Kim, DMD23


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April 2, 2021

 

Dear HSDM Community, 

 

Sunday, April 4th marks the celebration of Easter, one of the largest Christian holidays commemorating the resurrection or rebirth of Jesus. This holiday begins with Ash Wednesday which signifies the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, sacrifice, and prayer. The holiday ends with Holy Thursday, the celebration of The Last Supper, and Good Friday, when Jesus’ crucifixion is observed. Easter Sunday is considered a “moveable feast” and typically falls between March 22nd and April 25th each year. While the celebration of Easter Sunday has significance in Christianity, several of the holiday traditions are thought to originate from Pagan celebrations as well as the Jewish holiday of Passover. 

 

Because eggs represent fertility and birth in ancient Pagan traditions, decorating Easter eggs and Easter egg hunts may have become characteristic of the holiday due to the religious symbolism. Moreover, historically Christians would abstain from eating meat and eggs during Lent, and thus Easter Sunday became the first opportunity to eat eggs after 40 days. On the other hand, the Easter bunny delivering candy on Sunday morning is a concept whose origin is less well known; however, some historians deduce that rabbits are also associated with birth and renewal in many cultures. In addition, eating lamb for dinner on Easter has religious significance stemming from Passover, as lambs were often used as a sacrificial animal in Jewish traditions and therefore represents the sacrifice of Jesus.  

 

Now, over one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is only fitting that we reflect upon and celebrate the sacrifice of others who have dedicated their efforts to patient care in unprecedented and challenging circumstances. Similar to the 40 days of Lent, the entirety of the past year has required significant sacrifice by all in order to remain safe and healthy, our holiday celebrations included. Nevertheless, the true meaning of the Easter holiday lives on and serves as a reminder to reflect upon our resilience and gratitude amidst adversity. 

 

Sincerely, 
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 

Written by Office of Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Olivia Watrous, DMD23

 

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March 26, 2021

Dear HSDM Community, 

The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought several “firsts,” requiring us to adapt physically, emotionally, and socially. However, through these firsts, we emerge more resilient, more understanding, and appreciative of the support around us. Just as the start of 2021 brought us some relief and hope, Passover 2021, beginning Saturday, March 27th and ending Sunday, April 4th, is a “first” that carries significant symbolic meaning for the Jewish community, honoring resilience amidst adversity. 

While New Year in the Jewish calendar is actually the seventh month (Tishri), Passover begins the fifteenth day of Nissan, which is the first month of the Jewish calendar. This is analogous to January being the start of a new year with September representing the first month of the school year. The word Passover is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning “pass over,’ referring to when G-d (in Judaism, this is the conventional way of reference to prevent G-d from being defaced) passed over Egypt during the exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt. Passover is also called Chag he-Aviv (the "Spring Festival"), Chag ha-Matzoth (the "Festival of Matzahs"), and Zeman Herutenu (the "Time of Our Freedom"). 

Passover carries specific and sometimes individualistic symbolic meaning, yet celebrates the inclusion of all backgrounds. The dinner table unifies family, friends, and other loved ones. The Haggadah, a set form of benedictions, prayers, midrashic comments, and psalms are recited at Seder, a ritualistic dinner held on the first two nights of Passover. Having had the opportunity to join a Seder dinner in the past, I was enthralled by how each food item spurred reflection on Jewish history and self-growth. The dinner consists of 14 steps: Kaddesh (Sanctification), Urechatz (Washing), Karpas (Vegetable), Yachatz (Breaking), Maggid (The Story), Rachtzah (Washing), Motzi Matzah (Blessings), Maror (Bitter Herbs), Korech (Sandwich), Shulchan Orech (Dinner), Tzafun (Dessert), Barech (Grace), Hallel (Song), Nirtzah (Closing). A Seder plate is at the center of the table, containing six items each symbolizing a different part of the Exodus story. The word Exodus carries multiple meanings: 1) the event of Jewish prisoners fleeing Egypt after 400 years of slavery, 2) the name of the French ship carrying 4,500 Jewish immigrants after WW2 that got detained by the British army, 3) Book of Exodus, 4) Exodus (1960 film) based on a book by Leon Uris.

A major concept of Passover is the removal of Chametz or leavened bread. This is to remember that the Jewish fleeing Egypt did not have time to let their bread rise completely. Matzahor unleavened bread, is eaten instead of wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. Some families may also choose to remove all utensils used to cook Chametz (e.g. have a community bonfire).

Click on the links below to read more about the Passover holiday: 

 

Sincerely, 
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Natalie Wen, DMD22

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March 8, 2021

 

Dear HSDM Community,

 

March 8th marks International Women’s Day (IWD). The history of IWD dates back to 1908 where 15,000 women marched in New York City, protesting working conditions and demanding equal treatment as their male counterparts, such as better pay and voting rights. The strikes went on for months, and on February 28, 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Woman's Day (NWD) in the United States. During the International Conference of Working Women in 1910, a German campaigner and socialist named Clara Zetkintabled came up with the idea of an International Women's Day. Since then, IWD has been recognized to continue raising awareness and lobbying for gender equality as well as celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The plight of women for recognition, equality, and equity has been a continuous and evolving matter for as long as we remember, and it continues around the globe today, from systemic oppression to the erasure of contributions of women throughout history. 

 

This plight has not been limited to just recognition of women’s rights within the law, but also the society at large. Many unsung heroes of the movement go unrecognized through history and inevitably any effort that tries to compile and recognize these struggles comes short of giving credit to every person involved. Emeline Roberts Jones faced abhorrent resistance that “the very form and structure of woman unfits her for its [dental surgery] duties” and that the “frail and clumsy fingers of a woman” would not allow her to perform dental work. However, she pursued her interests, demonstrated her abilities, and became the first woman to practice dentistry in the US in 1855.  

 

When it came down to women in higher education, Dr. Edward H. Clarke of Harvard Medical School, was among one of many, who debated that if women spend excessive amounts of energy for education, they become infertile and possibly dead. (Edward H. Clarke, Sex in Education: A Fair Chance for Girls (Boston: J.R. Osgood & Co, 1873).) Although women faced much discrimination in obtaining admissions to universities for years, they kept fighting. Dr. Lucy B. Hobbs Taylor became the first woman to graduate from a dental college, obtaining her dental degree from the Ohio Dental College in 1866. 

 

This fight has been even more challenging for women of color. Dr. Ida Rollins is believed to be the first African American woman to earn a dental degree in 1890 in the U.S., attending the University of Michigan. (Dykes Jr., De Witt S. (1996). "Ida Gray Nelson Rollins (1867-1953)". In Smith, Jessie Carney (ed.). Notable Black American Women, Book II. New York, New York: International Thomson Publishing Company, Gale Research, Inc. pp. 496–497. SBNI 978-0-8103-9177-2.) Similarly, Dr. Faith Sai So Leong is believed to be the first Chinese American woman to obtain a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, San Francisco in 1905. (Rothstein, Edward (2009-09-21). "Museum of Chinese in America Reopens, Designed by Maya Lin". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-27.) It is through so much hard work that these women were able to achieve what they wanted and deserved as historically women and minorities faced denial of admission to many universities. 

 

Although women have been historically underrepresented in the field of dentistry, it is reassuring to see that this number has been rising. A report from 1970 showed that only 3.5% of the dentists were women, compared to the 2020 report indicating that among the 201,117 working dentists, 34.5% are women (The economic role of women. Washington, US Dept of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Women's Bureau, 1973, p 101.). I, for one, am proud to be one of the 25 women attending the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2023 with a class size of 35. It is important for us to recognize how far we have come and much work that still needs to be done. When it comes to women in leadership, there has not been much progress. The first reported female dean of a dental school is Dr. Badri Teymourtash who co-founded Mashhad dental school in Iran in 1965 and became the first female dean of a dental school in 1967. Jeanne Sinkford was appointed as the dean of Howard University, School of Dentistry in 1975, making her the first female dean of a dental school in the U.S. Five decades later and the number of women in leadership positions is not promising. A study has shown the median ratio of women leaders to women members in professional associations is only 0.67 in the U.S. Only 16 of 77 North American dental school deans are women, while 3 of 38 dental journals have women editors in chief, suggesting that despite the increase in admission to dental school and representation in the workforce, there is still much work to be done to ensure senior leadership positions for women in the same manner as their male colleagues. 

 

It is not shocking that women dentists have to struggle with closing the gender gap in earnings like other women working in law, medicine, etc. A study from the ADA Health Policy Institute suggested that men dentists earned 54 percent more than their women counterparts in 2010. After controlling for age, working hours, and other factors, the difference was still 36 percent. So, as we celebrate today as a day for the incredible contributions from women who were brave enough to challenge and break the societal barriers, let us reflect, learn more, and steer for change for much work that needs to be done to reach equity. 

 

Throughout history, women and other marginalized groups have faced many obstacles, roadblocks, and tensions, but they have been resilient, powerful, and full of energy. Many paid with their sanity, faced ostracization, and often their lives and livelihoods. They have come before us paving the way for the next generations and passing on this mantle to us. We have to continue advocating and challenging the system before us, passing on our experiences to those coming after us, and nurturing the next generation. 

 

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Shaida Parsaei, DMD23

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February 16, 2021

 

Dear HSDM Community,

February marks National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM), which is a month-long observance dedicated to promoting the oral health of children. Observances began in Cleveland, Ohio during February of 1941 and have since grown into a nationwide program. The first NCDHM held by the American Dental Association was in 1949, expanding from a one-day, to a week-long, now to a month-long celebration. Because receiving oral health education and developing a proper oral hygiene regimen at a young age are critical to maintaining lifelong habits, NCDHM attempts to reach millions of communities nationwide and spread awareness through health fairs, free dental screenings, dental office tours, and essay contests. The American Dental Association’s slogan for 2021 is “Water, Nature’s Drink!” which underscores the importance of community water fluoridation in the reduction of the prevalence and severity of dental caries

While the month of February is dedicated to spreading awareness and disseminating resources to benefit the oral health of children, it is imperative to focus efforts on education and the promotion of preventive dental visits for children year-round. Despite being a preventable problem, tooth decay affects more than one in four children in the United States aged 2 to 5 years and approximately half of those aged 12 to 15 years, which can lead to pain, psychosocial problems, absences from school, and poorer general health. Based on data from NHANES, 28.8% of children aged 6 to 9 years had untreated dental decay in at least one primary or permanent tooth from 1999-2004, with the highest rates of decay observed in Black children followed by Mexican American children. In addition, the highest rate of dental caries within this group was observed in children, whose families made less than 100% of the federal poverty threshold, highlighting the glaring racial and socioeconomic disparities that persist in the oral health outcomes of children. Moreover, only 25.5% of children ages 6 to 9 received dental sealants on one or more of their first permanent molars from 1999-2004, the lowest percentage of which was observed in Black children. Because of this, three goals of Healthy People 2020 were dedicated to improving the oral health status of children, which included reducing the proportion of children aged 3 to 5 years with untreated dental decay in their primary teeth, reducing the proportion of children aged 6 to 9 years with untreated dental decay in their primary or permanent teeth, and reducing the proportion of adolescents aged 13 to 15 years with untreated dental decay in their primary teeth

Although few studies have attempted to elucidate the underlying factors which drive these oral health disparities, it is important to recognize the ways in which systemic racism affects access to care, and in turn, oral health status. A prominent example is redlining, which was the term coined for insurance companies and banks denying or charging higher prices for residents living in marginalized and vulnerable neighborhoods. Because resources have been historically concentrated in white communities, the aftermath of redlining has caused significant differences in access to supermarkets, safe housing and neighborhoods, and dental providers, all of which have an influence on a child’s general and oral health status. Even for those who do have dental insurance, in Colorado, for example, there are major shortages of dentists throughout the state, particularly where the concentration of people of color is highest. Not only this, but the lack of diversity within the dental profession can also affect the utilization of dental care. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2017 demonstrated that 22% of Black respondents avoided medical care in the U.S. altogether due to concerns regarding racial discrimination, even when in need

It is clear that dental caries remains a significant and prevalent problem for children, with the lowest percentage of sealants and highest rate of caries observed in Black children and children who come from families of low socioeconomic status. It is essential to recognize the factors which fuel disparities in oral health in order to better understand why these inequities exist as well as the potential barriers a patient may face in seeking routine dental care and in adhering to a treatment plan. Focusing on oral health education for children and their families as well as community outreach, such as through Give Kids a Smile, are important steps in helping to bridge the gap in the oral health status of children. 

For more information about the ADA’s National Children’s Dental Health Month campaign, visit: https://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/national-childrens-dental-health-month

Sincerely, 
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Olivia Watrous, DMD23
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February 11, 2021

Dear HSDM Community,

The Western calendar day of February 12, 2021, marks the traditional holiday of Lunar New Year. On New Year’s Eve, February 11, billions of people around the world begin the two-week celebration of Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival (Chinese “春节/春節,” Vietnamese “Tết,” Korean “설날,” Tibetan “ལོ་གསར་”).  
 
Lunar New Year begins with the first new moon of the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, marking the beginning of the new year, and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar on February 22, 2021. From countries in Asia such as China, Korea, and Vietnam, to immigrant communities across the world, people celebrate this two-week festivity of Lunar New Year with traditional practices, ceremonies, and family time. Fireworks, family reunion dinner, dumpling making, praying to gods and ancestors, and giving children “lucky money” in red envelopes are some of the common traditional practices to celebrate Lunar New Year. 
 
Twenty twenty-one is the Year of the Ox based on the Chinese zodiac, or Sheng Xiao (生肖), which is a repeating 12-year cycle of animal signs and their ascribed attributes. People born in the Year of the Ox are regarded to be hardworking and honest in Chinese culture, due to the agricultural role of Ox. The traditional Chinese belief is that bad fortune follows people on their zodiac year, and the way to protect oneself against bad fortune is to wear red clothing/objects. 
 
This year, with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, local Chinese restaurants in Boston are struggling to survive even in Lunar New Year season, when business is usually at its highest due to festival demands. The local Chinatown restaurants that have been serving their communities for more than twenty years are struggling to stay open according to the Boston Globe. 
 
This Lunar New year, the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center is organizing the “We Love Boston Chinatown” Lunar New Year Virtual 5k/1 Mile Run/Walk to encourage community members to get out in the fresh air, exercise, and show support for the Boston Chinatown community.  
 
Learn more about We Love Boston Chinatown FREE Lunar New Year Virtual 5k Run/Walk 2021 
 
Learn more about how you can support small businesses and community in Boston Chinatown:
https://www.chinatownmainstreet.org/ 
https://bcnc.net/ 
 
Sincerely,

Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Ziwei Chen, DMD23

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January 25, 2021

Dear HSDM Community,

 

For January’s Mental Wellness Month, we would like to shed light on the challenges associated with mental health conditions and access to care, as well as the different challenges minority groups face regarding these issues. Mental health has a gloomy history, when up until the 1960s, people with mental illnesses were placed in asylums, not to be treated or helped but to be siphoned away from society [1]. Today, slightly more than a quarter of U.S. Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition each year [2]. Stigma, or the negative societal perception associated with mental illness, and discrimination, often lead to feelings of isolation and profound shame. In our society, people will frequently comfort patients with cancer or physical pain; however, they are less equipped to attend to the emotional suffering or mental health concerns of these same individuals, thus inadvertently contributing to a culture of silence and shame. People in present-day society will tend to showcase the highlight reels of their daily lives, especially on social media, showing how “great” and impervious to negative feelings they are, intensifying this stigma and sense of isolation.  

 

In some cultures, mental illness is often seen as non-existent or a sign of personal weakness, and this mindset could prove to be toxic for the individuals having these experiences. Some common stressors in higher education impacting mental health include parental pressure to excel academically or professionally, as well as the challenges associated with navigating the U.S. mainstream culture as bicultural or multicultural individuals. For example, admitting to “weakness” in some Asian cultures is sometimes seen as letting down your community, which is core to Confucian ideals [3]. Studies have shown that the biggest deterrent in seeking professional help is the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues; Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white Americans [3]. It is also important to acknowledge that while some cultures are more inclined to psychotherapy and to “talking it out,” other cultures find alternative vehicles for mental wellbeing such as through sports or academics. The aforementioned studies also reveal that bilingual households face difficulties accessing mental health services because of language barriers and limited familiarity with the mental health care system, thus emphasizing the need for a more diverse and bilingual workforce and better coordination and dissemination of community resources and health systems [3].  

 

Furthermore, the LGBTQI+ community frequently experiences harassment, rejection, and abuse, possibly contributing to the higher rates of mental health conditions among this group. A recent study showed 61% of LGBTQI+ community members experience depression, 45% Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and 36% anxiety disorder. Forty percent of transgender individuals have attempted suicide, nine times the overall rate [4]. In general, many LGBTQI+ individuals face barriers to mental health services due to disrespect or discriminatory comments from insensitive health care providers. Insensitive comments can include making assumptions about their bathroom usage or assuming their gender identity pronouns. These transgressions, whether intentional or unintentional, can reduce the seeking of care and promote PTSD [4]. To begin addressing this, one can ask open-ended questions, be genuinely curious rather than assume, ask people about their preferred pronouns and make sure to use them, and include a non-discriminatory policy in the office. This further highlights the importance of more representation across settings and along racial, ethnic, gender cultural, linguistic lines, and beyond! The most important factors are to continue educating oneself, explore one’s identities and implicit biases, adapt to new knowledge, and provide essential accommodations.  

 

While a diverse workforce in healthcare is essential, it should not be surprising if individuals choose to seek care from a provider who is from a different culture or identity group as them. Some reasons may include trying to avoid shame, judgment, stigma, and personal trauma associated with past experiences in their culture or identity group; therefore, assumptions and biases about what is best for the person should be recognized and avoided. We have to keep in mind that although we may think that we understand the intricacies of mental health experiences in one group, people within the same cultural and identity group have individualistic experiences that may not necessarily match our presumptions and understanding of that group. In addition, the intersectionality of one’s different social and cultural identities is unique and not simply the summation of each specific component. For example, a Black trans woman faces unique mental health challenges that you cannot understand by adding up the mental health experiences of all LGBTQI+ individuals, all Black individuals, and all women. 

 

Finally, we cannot conclude this piece without mentioning the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of all individuals but more importantly of the communities that have been most disproportionately affected. Studies have reported that the COVID-19 mortality rate is more than 2.7 times higher in Black, Indigenous, and Latinxs/Hispanic Americans compared to white Americans who have experienced the lowest age-adjusted rates [5]. Reports have shown the death toll surpassing one in 750 nationally for both Black and Indigenous Americans as of January 5, 2021 [5]. Additionally, the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey conducted between March 25 and April 10, 2020 (N = 9000) reported that 57% of Latinxs/Hispanics lost their jobs, reduced work hours, or reduced work-related income during the pandemic compared to 41% of Blacks and 38% of non-Hispanic whites [6,7]. The sorrow of losing a loved one and not being able to spend the last few minutes with them, the fear of lack of access to healthcare services, the stress from financial insecurities such as unemployment, and fear of unemployment are but a few ramifications of the global-wide pandemic affecting marginalized communities more severely. Unfortunately, all of these are well-established risk factors for psychiatric morbidity [6].  

 

This is an uphill battle but most importantly, what we can do is to recognize our implicit biases and be open-minded. It is important to look past mental health conditions as labels, and empathize and support those who are experiencing psychological distress. Instead of viewing someone as “a schizophrenic”, we can see him/her/them as “a person experiencing schizophrenia.” Language matters. As dental professionals, it is important to notice that patients are going through different mental health journeys and how that might affect when and how they seek treatment. Additionally, as professionals, we should be aware of our colleagues’ and our own mental health. Studies have shown the need for implementation of more preventive and supportive programs as high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress have been reported among dental students [8]. Lastly, although different communities could perpetuate stigma and shame about mental health, a supportive community is protective. Resilience and its five pillars--self-awareness, mindfulness, self-care, positive relationships, and purpose--help protect against various mental health conditions [9].  

 

There are mental health resources at Harvard through HUHS Counseling and Mental Health Services, which currently provide Zoom telemedicine visits and group workshops. There is also an event hosted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Mental Health in the Time of COVID-19”, on Wednesday, January 27 at 1:00-2:00 PM EST.

  

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Franklin Zhang, DMD23, and Shaida Parsaei, DMD23

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January 15, 2021

Dear HSDM Community, 

January 18, 2021 marks a day of remembrance, service, and celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr., the great civil rights leader and advocate. MLK Day is an annual, federally recognized holiday that has been celebrated on the third Monday in January since 1986. Although most schools and businesses close for the day, MLK Day is not meant to be a day off for Americans. To carry on King’s legacy, MLK Day is the only federal holiday with “a day on” approach that promotes volunteerism and service to one’s community. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was many different things to many different people. He was a father and husband, a minister, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and most notably, he was the leader of the civil rights movement from 1955 until his death in 1968. Without violence, King led protests against racial inequality that spanned city and state lines, speaking out against systemic injustices that still remain in our society today. From the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, King tirelessly worked to heal a nation and promote equality for all. 

Throughout his many years of service, King had been arrested multiple times for nonviolent protests, and survived numerous attacks from counter protestors. Despite all the obstacles, MLK marched onward, toward a brighter future for America. Sadly, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. 

Although we can all agree today that King’s role in the civil rights movement was deserving of a national holiday in his honor, that wasn’t the consensus shortly after his death. Congressman John Conyers was the first lawmaker to push for the establishment of a federal holiday, but failed to gain enough support from his colleagues and constituents. It wasn’t until 1983 that a bill proposed by US Representative Katie Hill was passed and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. However, this law was not enforced uniformly across the US, with several states either refusing to observe the holiday entirely, or celebrating the holiday under alternative names to avoid solely honoring MLK. For the first time in 2000, 32 years after his death, the entire United States of America celebrated MLK Day under this name (two states still combine MLK Day with another person who shall remain unnamed). 

2020 (not unlike any other year) showed us that our country is poisoned by systemic racism, something that King gave his life fighting against, and something many still deny exists. In this new year, and on this MLK Day, let us reflect on how we can be of service to our community, as we all need to take part in this fight if we are to create an equitable society for everyone – for “the time is always right to do what is right.” 

For more information on MLK Day: 
https://www.history.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr-day-controversial-origins-of-the-holiday 
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/14/arts/television/mlk-day-events-online.html 

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion  

 

Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Jordan Middleton, DMD23 


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January 14, 2021

Dear HSDM Community,

On Monday, January 18th, the School will join the rest of the University in commemorating the life and radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King stood for compassion, racial justice, freedom, truth, and dignity for all. His fierce activism for the poor and oppressed and unwavering commitment to social change has made him one of the most important figures in modern-day history, as he continues to inspire generations of U.S. Americans and people around the world.

As tragic and difficult as these past months have been due to the racism and COVID-19 pandemics, it has presented us with the opportunity to confront the painful legacy of racism and inequality in the U.S. and the way it affects our present day. In honor and celebration of Dr. King, join me in taking some time to remember Dr. King's legacy and reflect on ways in which each one of us could strive to emulate his example and advance the values he stood for in our own lives. 

 

I leave you with Dr. King’s most famous speech: I Have a Dream.  


Sincerely,


Vincenzo G. Terán, Psy.D.
Office of Diversity and Inclusion


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January 4, 2021

 

Dear HSDM Community, 

 

December 25th marks the holiday of Christmas, which has been federally observed in the United States since 1870. While many Christmas traditions have origins rooted in religion, Christmas is a cultural celebration associated with secular customs as well. Commonplace traditions include decorating Christmas trees, gift-giving, and hosting gatherings with family and friends.

 

For those who practice Christianity, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the revered spiritual leader whose teachings are foundational to the religion. However, it was not until the fourth century that his birth was declared a holiday, and the date of December 25th is speculated to have been chosen by Pope Julius​. At this time, the holiday was referred to as the Feast of the Nativity, and its celebration spread from Rome to Egypt and to England by the conclusion of the sixth century. The early 17th century was met with significant religious reform, and as a result, the ways in which Christmas was celebrated changed drastically. In 1630, English Puritans who came to America asserted that there was no biblical mention of celebrating the birth of Jesus, and therefore Christmas was not observed in early America. In fact, between 1659 and 1681, Christmas celebration was actually outlawed in Boston and subject to a fine.

 

It was not until the 19th century, in June of 1870, that Christmas became a federal holiday, sparking the resurgence of Christmas traditions. Decorating Christmas trees is a tradition that originated in Germany during the Middle Ages, and it is estimated that about ​30​ million real Christmas trees are sold annually in the United States alone. Similarly, the use of advent calendars also began in Germany as a means for children to count down to Christmas while reading a passage from the Bible each day. As this tradition gained immense popularity, secular calendars were also created and include daily gifts such as chocolate to mark the days preceding Christmas. In addition, the anticipated arrival of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named Saint Nicolas who dedicated his time and inherited wealth to helping those who were ill and those living in poverty. He subsequently became known as the protector of children and was introduced into American popular culture in the 18th century. In New York, Dutch families had gathered to commemorate the anniversary of Saint Nicolas’ death, referred to as “Sinter Klass” in Dutch, and this was the abbreviation from which Santa Claus was derived. 

 

Although this holiday season is rather unconventional due to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has enabled church services to be live-streamed and family members to remain connected while safely maintaining social distancing. Though there may be modifications in the observance of Christmas this year, the spirit of the holiday and its symbolism remain intact.

 

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion 

Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Olivia Watrous, DMD23


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December 10, 2020  

 

Dear HSDM Community,

Seventy-two years ago, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsrecognizing the inalienable rights of all persons- regardless of race, religion, sex, language, and national or social origin. This idealistic declaration established human rights standards for countries to strive for and be responsible to uphold. It provided a backbone for the development of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and later the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which drove global improvement in education, gender equality, environmental consciousness, and the reduction of hunger and poverty. 

Unfortunately, despite progress, our global community still falls short of its duty to protect and provide many of these rights to individuals. Particularly important this year is Article 25 of the document, which declares that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability…” The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our nation forces us to reflect upon the state of the infrastructure that we have created to ensure the health and well-being of all. In other words, does everyone in the United States of America have a standard of living adequate for health, regardless of who they are? For instance, incarcerated populations, disproportionately Black and brown, are often an overlooked group. In Vermont, COVID-19 cases in prisons are 2,331% relative to Vermont as a whole. In Michigan, COVID-19 cases in prisons are 919% higher than in the rest of the state. In Virginia, cases in prisons are 539% higher than in Virginia as a whole. This raises the question of whether or not individuals who are incarcerated have a standard of living adequate enough to be protected from diseases as advocated by the UN.

Access to health care without incurring financial hardship is a fundamental human right yet rising costs make medical care a luxury for many. Americans are largely dependent on employer-sponsored health insurance to cover medical expenses. During this pandemic-exacerbated economic crisis, we are often finding ourselves asking whether or not everyone has access to quality health care. A recent study found that 5.4 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored insurance between February and May this year upon losing their jobs. At the end of 2019, there were already 35.7 million peoplewithout health insurance. Any potential health issues can lead to catastrophic financial losses for these uninsured individuals and their families, severely affecting their livelihood.

As current and future leaders continue to re-invent healthcare systems and our country’s infrastructures to meet the challenges of tomorrow, we must keep in mind the Declaration of Human Rights and strive to create a society that promotes health and prosperity for all. Not only should we uphold other countries to these standards, but we must also be dutiful in upholding ourselves to them by ensuring that historically marginalized populations in our communities do not continue to have their rights and freedoms endangered. How do we, as doctors, scientists, leaders, and policymakers advocate for human rights is a reflection of our values as a society. The decision of whether to use our power for progress and justice or stand idly is ultimately ours to make and will have a long-lasting impact on our national and global communities. 

For more information about Human Rights Day and ways you can enact change visit:  

 For more information and ways to help the incarcerated population during COVID-19 visit:  

 
Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion  
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Laura Sofia Pesquera Colom, DMD23

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November 24, 2020

Dear HSDM Community, 

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday celebrated worldwide to express our appreciation and gratitude for our loved ones and positive experiences in life. While we may not all have the opportunity to be physically present with family and friends this Thanksgiving, I hope we can all stay connected virtually and in thought. Gratitude and appreciation must also be given to our HSDM community, which has demonstrated superior support and resiliency during this uncertain year of our training. 

Although we learned that the joyful gathering of the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 represents the first Thanksgiving Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on the events leading up to and following this historical day. Thanksgiving only became a federal holiday in the U.S. in 1941. Elsewhere in the world, villagers and Native Americans had been celebrating successful harvests long before 1621. It is important to recognize that Massachusetts’ Wampanoag were the ones present at the dinner, but the decision to work with the Pilgrims was not made easily. Before the journey of the Mayflower and settlement in the New England area, the Wampanoag were already in the midst of a civil war. European settlement brought disease and epidemics to the tribal homes, and some tribes fared better than others. The Narragansetttribe in particular was not as affected by disease and used this to their advantage to dominate smaller tribes such as the Wampanoag. Within the Wampanoag, tribal members were split between allying with the European settlers to fend off the Narragansett or rejecting them for bringing disease and invading their land. The Wampanoag leader Ousamequin and his followers ultimately decided to partner with the Europeans, leading to the 1621 harvest dinner. Unfortunately, European settlement took over most Native American land after King Philip’s War. 

After the war, Thanksgiving was celebrated as religious holidays on Sundays with the date and frequency differing between the colonies. The first national Thanksgiving was in 1777, but it was not until 1863 that Thanksgiving was more frequently declared by presidents as a national holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. In terms of food, editor Sarah Joseph Hale was credited for starting the turkey tradition during the two Thanksgivings declared by Abraham Lincoln to celebrate victories in the Civil War. Before refrigerated and pre-spiced turkeys, workers known as turkey drovers would guide turkeys up to 20 miles per day to slaughterhouses. Some states such as Texas held annual Turkey Trots where thousands of turkeys were herded to ensure that all families could have a turkey for the holiday. Now Turkey Trots are annual 5K runs for fundraising and getting together with family and friends. 

While there is a political backstory to Thanksgiving Day, it is also a symbol of the resiliency and sense of community embodied by the Native American people associated with the “first” Thanksgiving dinner. As a community that values diversity and inclusion, we can share these historical facts with colleagues and loved ones as a way of recognizing the evolution of Thanksgiving and appreciating this holiday as a catalyst for reflection, remembrance, and growth in the year to come.

More information on the history of Thanksgiving and evolution of Thanksgiving food can be found below: 

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November 10, 2020

Dear HSDM Community, 

Veterans Day is a federal holiday observed on November 11th, honoring our military veterans who have served our country. Its origins date back to November 11, 1918, which is considered the unofficial ending to “The Great War” – World War I. Although the official ending to WWI was marked by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, the fighting ceased between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States Congress officially recognized this day by saying, “… it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will.” 

Today, we traditionally honor our veterans with special assemblies in schools, parades through the streets, and songs of patriotism sung coast to coast. Flags are hung at half mast, and a two-minute moment of silence is generally held at 11:00 AM. All of this to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their safety and well-being to ensure ours remains intact here in the States. While the day off from work and nationwide celebration is important in signifying the momentous occasion that Veterans Day is, we should all reflect on the difficult reality that many of those we’re celebrating currently face. Upon completion of active service and their return home, veterans often face insurmountable obstacles when trying to acclimate to civilian life. 

In 2016, roughly 52% of veterans were without a college degree, making the attainment of a livable wage much more difficult. Within the already existing inequality between veterans and non-veterans, there lies a gross inequality between minority and non-minority veterans. Minority veterans are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to non-minority veterans. This leaves an already marginalized group even more at risk and likely to experience homelessness – an issue that impacts veterans at disproportionately higher rates compared to most other groups. We praise those willing to serve our country and fight for our freedom, but we have a long history of forgetting about them once they return home. 

Beyond socioeconomic status, for many soldiers returning home, the internal battle is far from over. Between 10-20% of veterans who served in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The needs of those struggling with their mental health have historically been overlooked in our country, and veterans with PTSD are no exception. 

As you all enjoy your day off from class or work, please reflect and consider that we, as students, healthcare professionals, and residents of the United States, have an obligation to recognize the psychosocial stressors and structural barriers faced by many of our military veterans, and work to ensure their needs are being met upon returning home. We owe them the same protection they so selflessly provided us. 

More information on Veterans Day and how to get involved: 

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Jordan Middleton, DMD23

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October 1, 2020

Dear HSDM Community, 

The start of Autumn is not only the time of cool, refreshing temperatures and changing colors but also the time of harvest. Harvest of apples. Harvest of pumpkins (or the daily pumpkin-spice latte). Harvest and appreciation of all the wonderful memories we have created this past year with our loved ones. Although 2020 has been filled with uncertainties and stressors, we must not forget to fill our hearts and bellies with the positivities that the fall holidays have to offer. 

October 1st marks the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival (ZhongQiu Jie 中秋) or Moon Festival. With each year that passes and life getting busier, I find this holiday to be more meaningful and nostalgic, as it is an opportunity to meet new people and connect with loved ones. Whether it is crowding around one sliced mooncake with roommates or receiving an entire box and a holiday call from my parents, the festivities of this day shine light on the good fortune in my life, and I am united with friends and family even if we are physically apart. 

Mid-Autumn Festival activity in China began with worshipping the moon which can be traced back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). The origin story revolves around Hou Yi, a skilled archer, and his beloved wife Chang’e. Their people lived in poverty caused by the lack of harvest from the extreme heat of ten suns. Villagers regarded Hou Yi as the hero who went up into the mountains and shot down nine suns leaving one to rise and set with time. For his heroic acts, the Empress of Heaven rewarded him an elixir of immortality. One day, one of Hou Yi’s followers snuck into his house when he was out and demanded Chang’e to hand over the elixir. Chang’e, who was aware that she was unable to defeat the intruder, made the decision to drink the elixir and floated into the sky. Upon his return, Hou Yi desperately searched the sky for his wife and thought he saw her figure in the moon. Consequently, villagers started lighting lanterns and praying and wishing for Chang’e’s good fortune. With each dynasty, the celebration of the Moon Festival became more prominent and spread to​ other Asian countries. The holiday became an officially recognized Chinese holiday in 2008. Typical celebration activities on this day include having a family gathering, lighting lanterns, and worshipping the moon. While different families celebrate with different activities, one commonality is eating mooncakes. These hockey-puck-sized desserts are so decadent that sharing with loved ones is a must. They are typically filled with lotus paste and salty egg yolk, red or mung bean paste, or various fruits and nuts. 

As you enjoy the time of harvest this weekend, I encourage you to bring back a mooncake to celebrate with loved ones the unity and hopefulness that Mid-Autumn Festival represents. And if you are feeling adventurous, I recommend trying a snow-skin mooncake​ for a cooler treat! 

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September 15, 2020

Dear HSDM Community, 

 

September 15th marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. The Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes and celebrates the contributions of U.S. Americans from Spanish-speaking nations to our country. I would like to share some thoughts about the Hispanic diaspora who have made countless contributions to U.S. society. 

 

Ni de aquí, ni de allá.” Not from here or from there. This is a sentiment shared by many immigrants and their descendants. Adapting to a new home in order to survive and be successful inevitably changes behaviors and parts of who they are. People in the communities they moved into may still see them as foreigners, even after years of calling these neighborhoods home. Those in the place they moved from now see them as outsiders.

 

“Are they even Hispanic if they can’t speak Spanish?” “They don’t even know how to make that one traditional food.” “They’re not from here, they have an odd accent.” We are in an age of “othering,” where the diaspora’s legitimateness as Hispanic is constantly in question by their own. What people fail to recognize, at times, is that the diaspora is their best advocate and ambassador. The diaspora is proud of their culture. The diaspora is resilient. The diaspora is strong. The diaspora carries the weight of their ancestors and adapted their traditions and beliefs to new circumstances- making their past shine in the present and using their perspectives to provide solutions to the prevalent issues of today. 

 

Today, over 56 million of the US population is Hispanic- a population born out of the Hispanic diaspora. Early immigrants established a culture of service that is still alive today. From Justice Sonia Sotomayor who was born in the Bronx from Puerto Rican-born parents to the 5,000+ Hispanic dentists in the nation, many Hispanics are compelled to serve their communities. 

 

Although we have much to celebrate, we must reflect on the ravaging, disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Hispanic communities. The pandemic has unmasked existing health disparities within our nation. Research shows that Hispanics are 2.8 times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and 4.6 times more likely to be hospitalized when compared to white, non-Hispanic persons. Unfortunately, Hispanics also are 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured compared to white, non-Hispanic persons, mainly due to immigration restrictions. As health professionals and students, we must work to reduce these disparities within our communities and ensure access to affordable, quality health care for all. 

 

Join me in commemorating the countless contributions made by the Hispanic community to our country this month and every month.

Information on the Hispanic diaspora can be found in: 


Sincerely,

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Laura S. Pesquera Colom, DMD23

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July 10, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, a congenital abnormality that affects 1 out of 600 children with a higher incidence in Asian, Native, and Hispanic Americans. Cleft lip and palate occur due to the incomplete closure of the lip or palate tissue, leading to an opening in the upper lip. These birth defects can occur simultaneously or one without the other.

The causes of orofacial clefts are unknown, but genetics and prenatal factors, such as smoking, diabetes, and some medications may increase the risk. Another factor that modestly increases the chance of cleft lip and palate is the neighborhood socioeconomic position of the mothers. This is due to the social and physical environments that impact health outcomes. Treatment options for clefts include surgical intervention within the first 12 months of life and special dental and orthodontics attention.

Although one of the aims of treatment for orofacial cleft is to minimize speech problems, about 20-30% of children will require secondary surgeries to help with their problems. In the United States, families can apply for Social Security for their children with cleft lip and palate, aimed at providing extra income for additional therapy.

Not all children across the world have the same resources, however. Many children with orofacial clefts do not receive treatment, leading to communication disabilities, social isolation, and stigma. These patients exhibit higher levels of hostility, negative self-worth and outlook in life, and greater dependence compared with the general population (see attached article). Orofacial defects do not only affect the patient, but the family as well, particularly mothers.

As oral health providers, we need to focus not only on the physical manifestations of oral health problems, but to act as a social support in the following ways: educating the caregivers, providing psychological support for patients with these problems, and operating from a collaborative approach with physicians, social workers, and speech pathologists to ensure that patients receive proper care. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that children do not fall through the gap due to a limited understanding of the dentist on the significance of referral services in comprehensive care. 

Information on how team-based care delivers more comprehensive care can be found in: 

Information on how geographic location affects health outcomes can be found in:

Sincerely,

Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Aida Shadrav, DMD21

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June 18, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

Friday, June 19, 2020, commemorates Juneteenth, the oldest national celebration for the ending of slavery in the United States. Commemorating June 19, 1865, on which Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers announced the end of the Civil War and slavery in Galveston, Texas. Notably, this announcement came two and Juneteenth Flaga half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which was originally issued on September 22, 1862 and became effective on January 1, 1863. Several hypotheses have been used to explain this delay, but overall this gap highlights society’s resistance to accept this new change in America. The Juneteenth Flag was created in 1997 and visually highlights this impactful moment in American history. Utilizing the colors of the American Flag (red, white, and blue), the Juneteenth flag shows the lone star of Texas bursting with new freedom over the horizon and throughout the land.

Juneteenth is more than just a date in history, but it was a point in a significant shift in the United States’ trajectory. The Emancipation Proclamation had a limited effect on abolishing slavery because it only applied to the parts of the 11 Confederate states that were not under Union control. More legislation and dedicated work would be needed to establish a new normal across the country. On January 31, 1865 Congress passed the 13th Amendment, yet it was not ratified until December 6, 1865. The first section of this amendment ended A photo of a copy of the 13th Amendmentslavery and involuntary solitude, but the second section gave Congress the legal power to enforce this amendment. The following year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which sought to invalidate Black Codes, laws implemented by states to hinder the freedoms and opportunities of newly freed slaves. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 required ratification of the 14th Amendment, which granted equal protection under the constitution to former slaves, before a state could rejoin the Union. Adopted in 1870, the 15th Amendment granted the right to vote despite race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Ironically, this year’s Juneteenth celebration comes in the wake of much civil unrest. A global pandemic and unjust treatment of African American citizens by the police have highlighted the ever-present systemic biases that persist towards people of color. While many images and videos have been shared showing increasing tension leading to violent outbreaks on both sides, other images have highlighted the progress and shared desire to reach justice and equality. Images of cops and peaceful protestors marching together show a unified desire for an equal chance at life and protection under the law. Moments like this highlight the need for people to unify and continue the progress towards a more fair and just America for all. 

Collage of photos of police brutality protests across the US 

Join Juneteenth celebrations:

  • The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists will be hosting the 10th Annual Juneteenth Emancipation Observance 
  • The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will have its 8th Annual Juneteenth Community Celebration
  • A line up of live virtual events coming out of NH, NY, CT, and TX


Further reading:


Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Jacqueline Harris, DMD 2021

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June 5, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly damaging to Black Americans, highlighting institutional racism that has long existed within our healthcare system and our society.  

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that Black Americans are more likely to contract coronavirus and more likely to die once infected. In Boston, while Black Americans account for an estimated 40% of coronavirus cases they make up only 25% of the population. There are many contributing factors to this. Racial bias within our healthcare system certainly plays a considerable role. Additionally, black Americans suffer from higher rates of underlying health conditions, are more likely to be uninsured, and have jobs that require them to leave their homes during the pandemic. Further, the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd also raise increased threat of increased coronavirus infection for this same group. Black communities balance the need to respond to this act of violence versus the risk of a spike in COVID cases as people gather to protest.

In addition to health disparities, due to the economic effects of COVID, black individuals are disproportionately burdened with the effects of the economic crisis. The financial effects of this virus will likely last longer and be more difficult to recover from for black individuals. It will take mindful and specific economic policies aimed at racial equity to address the economic effects of this crisis without widening disparity gaps.

Many of these same trends also extend to other communities of color in the United States. People in these communities live with the knowledge that they are more likely to be treated badly, humiliated, and even die when they enter a medical setting. It is critical to recognize that many of our patients at HSDM are living this experience. We have a duty to push against the inherent biases within our institutions and actively work to create a safe environment for our patients of color to receive oral healthcare. Our individual and institutional missions must specifically address these issues. This includes making dentistry more financially accessible to our patients, addressing language barriers, increasing oral health education, and recognizing the ways the historical separation between dentistry and medicine has prevented patients from achieving optimal health.

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Aisha Ba, DMD21

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May 29, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

At this point, many Americans have received much needed cash assistance from the US government. This one-time payment has helped cover food, rent, and other necessities as many of us struggle just to maintain everyday life. Even so, there are many—people who live alongside us, work tirelessly to support our communities, pay billions of dollars in taxes—who will not be receiving a stimulus check. These people are also ineligible for unemployment benefits, public insurance, and other government programs that have become necessary for survival in the pandemic. Most of these people have limited access to COVID testing or may be fearful of the consequences of getting tested. And despite this lack of access to public resources, many of these people are frontline workers in areas such as agriculture, grocery stores, and hospitals.

These people are undocumented immigrants.

Take the example of Antonio, an undocumented man from Queens. He described that even before the pandemic, “You can’t go to the park, can’t go to church to distract yourself, because ICE could arrive at any moment. Life becomes a battle against anxiety… you feel alone and isolated from everything. You leave everything behind.” During the pandemic, his movements were even more restricted—he hadn’t dared take the subway due to fear of ICE patrols, and never left his apartment except to go to his construction job. In the pandemic, such feelings of isolation, anxiety, and fear are only heightened by financial uncertainty, a lack of state support, and fear of border patrol officers at hospitals. The outcome—Antonio died of COVID last month. Stories like this are becoming far too common, not only in peoples’ own homes and communities but also in crowded ICE detention centers, where proximity and maltreatment are starting to develop mass infections and death.

Even for mixed-status families, where some members are citizens and others are not, the situation can be dire. The CARES act, which authorized the stimulus checks, limited access. For example, citizens filing with an undocumented spouse were ineligible for stimulus checks. Similarly, families with citizen children and undocumented parents were ineligible to receive funds for their children. Another issue is the recent Public Charge rule, which counts immigrants’ utilization of social services like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) against their ability to obtain green cards. Because of Public Charge, parents of citizen dependents, eligible for social services, have been forced to disenroll lest they jeopardize their prospects for remaining in the US long-term.

And then there are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, undocumented individuals who came to the US as children, often at such a young age that they do not remember living anywhere but the US, and were given protected status under the Obama administration. They face potential crisis with an upcoming Supreme Court decision, which will determine whether the present administration can end the program and overturn recipients’ temporary legal status. Many DACA recipients work in hospitals, and many are health professionals, including doctors and nurses. Consequently, this decision has implications not only for recipients themselves but also the communities they serve.

As background, I want to take a moment to think about displacement. Many undocumented immigrants are here to pursue better lives or to escape violence in their countries of origin, and it’s necessary to understand this in context.  The United States’ decades-long history of international intervention—in Central America, for example—has destabilized these countries. This includes our actions in El Salvador, which is the place of origin of many undocumented immigrants in Boston. Such examples force us to understand migration not just as an American problem but as an American responsibility.

Within our own community, it is imperative that we support undocumented immigrants’ health and ability to live during these times. Boston is home to an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants, and many seek dental care at settings like the HDC. As the HSDM community, undocumented immigrants are not only our neighbors, but also our patients and professional responsibility.

To support undocumented immigrants, we can look to the many advocacy groups working on their behalf. Several have set up funds working at national and local levels to alleviate financial hardship imposed by the pandemic. Movimiento Cosecha is one such nonprofit and has already raised over one million dollars to distribute via its fund. This is nowhere near enough—they recently reopened their funding application and received over 5000 new submissions in less than half an hour.

We are living in a profoundly different, new normal. Even amidst crisis, I hope we have opportunity to consider our interdependence.

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Paul Chung, DMD21

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May 1, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

Next Tuesday will mark a holiday that has its fair amount of misconceptions but nonetheless represents a significant day for Mexican-Americans across the nation—Cinco de Mayo! Its origin surrounds the victory of Mexican forces against France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Despite being the underdog in the battle, Mexico was able to defeat the French Empire and this day was forever celebrated by parts of Mexico to capture the patriotism and valor of the soldiers that fought in the war. In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a different significance as it turned into a celebration of Mexican-American culture.

During the 1960s, Mexican-Americans activists that were deeply involved in the civil rights movements mainly used the day as a celebration for Mexican-American identity and culture. Unfortunately, this significant holiday has been appropriated and commercialized by beer and liquor companies, giving way for cultural stereotypes and racial insensitivity. Still celebrated by Mexican-American communities in the U.S. as a day of pride for their Mexican heritage, it is also important to recognize that this holiday has been adopted as a day of drinking and partying by many generations that have been heavily influenced by corporate America.

With a global pandemic having us practice social distancing, I find this to be a great time to learn and honor the origins of this great holiday without the shroud of advertising campaigns created by beer and liquor corporations. During trying times like these, learning about holidays like Cinco de Mayo and the beauty behind the Mexican-American culture makes our efforts in curtailing the spread of the virus even more important. With Hispanic communities being one of the many communities affected disproportionately by COVID-19, it is up to all of us to support and play our part in curtailing the grips of this virus so that once again we can all come together and celebrate this rich Mexican-American culture in its full glory.

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Daniel Shen, DMD21
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April 10, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

One of the largest Christian holidays will be celebrated on Friday, April 10, 2020. This holiday is celebrated as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday immediately before Easter Sunday. It commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Good Friday is celebrated by many Christian denominations such as Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and many others. However, the exact date of Good Friday may vary depending on the denominations since Western Christianity uses the Gregorian calendar while Eastern Christianity uses the Julian calendar. It is also considered an official public holiday in some countries. Celebration of Good Friday can include fasting, mass/services, and reflection of Jesus’s experience through the Stations of the Cross.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic by COVID-19, many of Good Friday’s normal celebrations are cancelled in observance of social distancing. Thanks to modern technology though, some services can still be livestreamed online. For example, my parents will be able to enjoy Catholic mass services from their living room. This will give us all a chance to reflect on the true meaning of Good Friday, an appreciation of someone who sacrificed themselves for others.

I cannot think of another time where this is more prevalent as I consider the millions of doctors, nurses, and health professionals worldwide who are risking their safety to treat patients affected by COVID-19. Even some of my friends in the Harvard Medical School will have to graduate early to start their residency training and help overwhelmed hospitals in places like New York City. During this time, we must continue to do our best to support our healthcare workers and those at risk by following social distancing and other CDC guidelines (some Harvard Medical and Dental students have created a Facebook page for more information at Future MD VS COVID. While the way we observe Good Friday may have changed, the spirit of the holiday has not.

Sincerely,
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Quang Do, DMD21
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March 6, 2020

Dear HSDM Community,

International Women's Day logoSunday, March 8, 2020 is International Women’s Day. This day serves not only as a celebration for the accomplishments of women and progress towards gender equality but also as a reminder of the work that is still left to do. This year’s theme is I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights, while the campaign theme is Each for Equal. This year’s theme is drawn from the idea of Collective Individualism, which suggests that everyone is part of the whole. This year aligns with the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a notably progressive doctrine inspiring a world of gender equality. Over the years women have made many strides regarding leadership in every industry.

February 28, 1909 was the first Women’s Day celebration which took place in New York. It is believed this was organized to commemorate a protest of female garment workers that took place on March 8, 1857. This movement slowly began to spread internationally until 1975 when the United Nations General Assembly began to officially celebrate this occasion annually on March 8. This year also became known as International Women’s Year. International Women’s Day is an encompassing celebration of equality and justice across gender, races, religions, and abilities.

As this recognized day approaches, there are many different steps and events through which anyone can participate in this celebration, including the following:


The United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day 2020
- New York, NY on Friday March 6, 2020 10a.m. to 1p.m.

Celebrate MetroWest Boston Women with MAPA Translation and Friends
- Boston, MA on Sunday, March 8, 2020 3:30p.m. to 6:30p.m.

Northeastern University: Succeed Like a Girl
- Boston, MA on Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sincerely,

Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Written by Diversity and Inclusion Fellow, Jacqueline Harris, DMD21

 

 

Previous Entries

What Makes Belonging Real at HSDM?
The Launch of Diversity Dialogues at HSDM
Diversity Event: HSDM Students Stand Together for Peace
At the end of 2015, students from HSDM gathered together for an event to promote peace after violent attacks around the world throughout the year of 2015. View their video messages for peace: