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Penn State dental school declares war on anti-LGBTQ bias with new fund

The school’s new LGBTQ+ Fund has been launched with a $50,000 gift from an alumnus, who was not identified in last week’s news release celebrating its establishment. The fund has “the goal of identifying LGBTQ+ based biases in the dental profession and ways to dispel them.

While dental care is almost universally considered gender-inclusive, the near-total absence of scientific research on the subject of the LGBTQ+ dental patient experience is apparently seen as fertile territory, as the fund-seeding donation to Penn is aimed at “eventually endowing the fund to support research and programs in perpetuity.”

Understanding the root of homophobia, transphobia, and bias related to actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity requires intentional study,” Penn Dental dean Mark Wolff said in the press release. He did not explain how these issues related to the study of dentistry.

The fund’s focus appears to be gauging the extent of anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice among the Penn Dental Medicine community via several types of surveys, interdisciplinary research aimed at uncovering such bias, developing “enduring resources” to support LGBTQ students, and holding conferences on LGBTQ issues. The fund is also tasked with devising “policy recommendations that can have profession-wide impact through scholarly publications.”

Indeed, vanishingly little has been written in scientific journals on dentistry and the LGBTQ+ community. One of the rare such studies admitted that “many patients from LGBT backgrounds do not disclose their sexual orientation to their healthcare providers,” though the writer did not elaborate on why this would be relevant to dentists.

Penn is already seen as one of the most LGBT-friendly colleges in the US. While the LGBTQ+ Fund is the dental school’s first “dedicated resource” aimed at supporting gender diversity, its student body has its own Pride Alliance and has been hosting Pride Celebrations for two years.

Penn Dental Medicine students haven’t been spared the bewildering raft of diversity mandates which has flooded western academia of late. Last year, they were treated to a mandatory course in “anti-racism” called “The Penn Experience: Racism, Reconciliation and Engagement,” which subjected them to 20 hours of instruction on “structural racism, implicit bias, allyship, gender identity, and healthcare equity,” according to student newspaper the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Social policy professor Amy Hillier, who developed the course with dental school professor Beverly Crawford, told the paper she was surprised at how many dental students had “no preparation for the conversation about race or racism” and “knew nothing about white privilege and white supremacy”. While some of Penn’s graduate schools require a variation on the course, there is no mandate currently requiring all students to complete a class on ethnic studies or “anti-racism.” 

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