The first dental school scholarship offered through the United Negro College Fund has a remarkable namesake, strong support and big ambitions.
ALTHOUGH DIVERSITY in dentistry has been increasing over the last 15 years, according to the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, “the racial mix of the dentist workforce does not reflect the United States population.”
The Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman Endowment aims to change that through greater access to higher education. Its goal is to help end underrepresentation of black, native, indigenous and Latino communities in dental schools by providing financial support and mentoring to aspiring dental students. Created in partnership with the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation with major funding from the Benco Family Foundation, the scholarship selected its first two recipients as this issued headed to press: Destiny Smart (Tufts University) and Noah Williams (Howard University).
Robert Tanner Freeman was the first African-American to receive a degree in dentistry from an academic institution. Born around 1846 in Washington, D.C., he trained under Dr. Henry Bliss Noble, who encouraged him to formally train for a dental career. Freeman applied to two schools and was rejected because of his race. He then applied to Harvard Dental School after its founding, and in March 1869, he was one of only six students to receive the Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. After graduation, Tanner moved back to D.C. and practiced dentistry until his death on June 14, 1873.
“The Benco Family Foundation recognizes the problems: lack of underrepresented minorities—primarily black/African-American, native/indigenous and Latino—and the tuition barrier,” says Rebecca Binder, executive director of the Benco Family Foundation. “The BFF wants to be part of the solution by helping create the Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman Scholarship.”
Adds Sarah Miller, the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation’s executive director, “By helping historically underrepresented minority students start their dental school journey, the new Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman scholarship has the potential to [affect] access to the dental profession for years to come.”