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UI dental students calling for change in diversity efforts, while other students raise concerns over free speech

Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 11:12 PM CST
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) -The University of Iowa College of Dentistry is seeing criticism from students on both sides of the political spectrum over its handling of free speech and diversity on campus.

Megha Puranam, a third year dental student, and Jasmine Butler, a fourth year dental student, are both members of the Action UI Task Force, a student-run group working to bring awareness to what they are saying is a discriminatory environment at the College of Dentistry.

They both say say it’s time the University of Iowa’s College of Dentistry took a hard look at how its training future dentists.

”I’m tired of hearing about my peers being bullied, I’m tired of hearing that they don’t feel respected by the faculty, and frankly I’m tired of being able to perpetuate this idea that we are creating competent dentists, when in reality we’re creating dentists that don’t see the whole picture of what their marginalized patients are going through,” Butler said.

The Action UI Task Force led a protest on Friday afternoon, where close to 100 students gathered outside the Dental College chanting and holding signs calling for action to increase accountability and diversity.

The task force released a list of demands for the College of Dentistry this week, and an online petition currently with more than 1,000 signatures pushing for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Puranam said they are hoping to start a “culture change” at the college, saying, “We do believe that increasing diversity equity and inclusion training at all levels of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry will really result in more culturally competent health care workers.”

In a statement to KCRG-TV9, the University of Iowa said:

The University of Iowa is committed to fostering an equitable and inclusive environment for everyone in the University community, as well as one where ideas and perspectives can be freely expressed and discussed. There continues to be energy on campus to do the important work outlined in the University’s 2019-2021 Excellence through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan. The University released an update to the plan, along with other information such as details on new initiatives on Monday.

The College of Dentistry also has a webpage detailing its Strategic Plan 2020 - 2025, which includes its diversity, equity and inclusion vision.

But some students have raised very different concerns.

In October, when the Trump administration banned many colleges from doing certain diversity and equity trainings, the Dental College sent an email condemning the President’s move.

Dental student Michael Brase testified to state legislators at an oversight committee meeting this week that he hit “reply all” to the email, questioning the College’s stance.

He then testified about what happened next, raising concern about protecting conservative free speech on campus.

“One gentleman decided to very politely and very professionally push back and have a difference of opinion and he was threatened with a disciplinary hearing, he was told he couldn’t have an attorney, he was told that he couldn’t record the meeting, and it took intervention from the legislature to stop something bad happening to him,” said Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican legislator and one of those lawmakers in that oversight committee,.

Kaufmann said he supports the right of Friday’s protesters to march, but believes all students should be able to voice opinions equally.

”I don’t care if those students’ viewpoints are in the middle on the right or on the left, we all have a right to express ourselves without fear of punishment,” Kaufmann said.

The University of Iowa posted a statement on its commitment to the First Amendment earlier this week, which can be found here.

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