Janice Darko, an African immigrant from Ghana, has made history as the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry.
Darko, who moved to the United States from Ghana with her family, will receive her historic degree Friday (May 19).
“This is bigger than me. This is not just about me. This is about representing my community,” Darko said in an interview with KUTV.
“Being a Black woman from Africa, I still have to go home. Cook, clean, be a wife, take care of my children. I have all those responsibilities.”
Though the school’s dental program is relatively young, a spokesperson with the University of Utah’s marketing communication department said it continued to attract more students of color.
And to help with the integration of students of color and celebrate diversity at the predominantly white campus, Darko decided to use her time to create the Black and Dental Art Students Association.
The organization’s goal was to encourage students to showcase their artistic side, help other students learn more about the African heritage, and allow them to commemorate the cultures and talents of those from different parts of the world.
An art display was strategically set up where people could stop and check out various art pieces.
“The mission of BDSA is to provide a firm and stable policy environment for effective mainstreaming of the African culture into all aspects of University of Utah Dental School life,” Darko said during an interview with the campus.
“To ensure strong emergence of a vibrant, creative art environment at the University of Utah campus. To entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe and the dental community through the power of unparalleled art, reflecting iconic creative minds and innovative technologies,” she added.
In addition to her commitment to her family and peers, Darko is also a United States Navy Reserve member.
“When I interviewed her, I realized what a remarkable young woman that I was interviewing,” said Dr. Bart Watts, DDS, who is part of the admissions committee for the school’s dental program.
“We work with students on hand skills. Learning how to work on teeth, be good providers. And we forget that translates into other types of visual art as well,” he added.
Dr. Watts hopes that more students of color will be encouraged to apply to the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry despite its lack of diversity.
“Apply. Come. Come. Just because Dentistry has been traditionally a white profession in the state of Utah for so many years, that doesn’t mean that the profession is closed to anyone else.”
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