TUSDM Celebrates Black History, Arab Culture

Music. Dance. Food. History. There are many ways to celebrate a cultural heritage, and TUSDM students, staff and faculty were able to experience all of them recently at two cultural events on campus. The first, a long-standing tradition of the Student National Dental Association’s (SNDA) Black History Month Dinner, and the other a brand-new event for a brand-new organization: the Arab Dental Society (ADS), which hosted an Arab Cultural Night.

View Photo Albums: Black History Month Dinner | Arab Cultural Night

 Executive Associate Dean Mark Gonthier, Dean Emeritus Lonnie Norris and Dean of Student Affairs Robert Kasberg (Middle, from L to R) pose with TUSDM SNDA members. View Pictures
 Students pose at the Arab Cultural Night dinner at TUSDM. View Pictures

The SNDA hosted the Annual Black History Month Dinner on February 21. The event, sponsored by the Provost’s Office and the Office of Equal Opportunity, was a celebration of black history and culture, and a time for reflection. Approximately 85 participants had a chance to taste food representing black cultures around the world – American soul food from Red Bones Barbecue, Caribbean fare from Irie’s Restaurant, and East African cuisine from Karibu Restaurant. They also enjoyed a West African dance performance from the Tufts African Dance Collective and a trivia challenge on black history.

“If we don’t celebrate and remember our heritage, no one else will,” said SNDA Tufts President Joke Alesh, D15. “It feels good to remember where we’ve been, and where we’re going.”

Speakers at the event included TUSDM Dean Emeritus Lonnie Norris, and Jamison Collier, Project Manager at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Mark Gonthier, Executive Associate dean, welcomed everyone to the dinner on behalf of Dean Huw Thomas.

“I encourage all of you to consider your stewardship and mentoring responsibilities,” Gonthier said. “You have the ability to make the school a better place and to mentor the next generation of students and future professionals.”

Tufts alumni also contributed to the event; Dr. Nicholas Gordon, D12 and currently completing his MPH in the DMD/MPH program, gave a poetry reading while Tania DeBarros, A11, sang the “Black National Anthem” and “Caged Bird.” For Alesh, the event was a reminder to view her accomplishments with pride.

“I’m not just going to be a dentist,” she said. “I’m going to be an African-American dentist. And I say that proudly.”

The ADS, which students organized last semester, held its first major event on February 26. The “Arab Cultural Night” was an opportunity for participants to experience food, music and dance from around the Arab world.

“When you open a newspaper these days, you are likely to read sad and heartbreaking stories coming out of the middle-east,” said ADS President Leila Suwwan, D15. “But the Arab world has an incredibly diverse and rich culture and a glorious and accomplished history.”

The event featured Middle Eastern cuisine from To Beirut in Norwood, as well as a dance troupe from St. Anthony’s Church in Lawrence. The group performed Lebanese Dabke, a folk dance common to the Levantine region of the Middle East, and invited participants to dance with them after their performance. The evening also featured DJ Ray, who played pop music from all over the Arab world. Suwwan welcomed guests to the event, and spoke about the Arab world’s influence on the sciences and mathematics, and particularly its importance to modern dentistry.

“Arab literature described, for the first time ever, that a tooth nerve was the transmitter of pain,” she said. “The scientist Quarna stated in the 9th century that dental decay was caused by an unknown “acid” that traveled from tooth to tooth. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Arab world was the pinnacle of medical and dental advancement in the middle-ages.”

Both the events were attended by students, faculty, staff and friends, including Dr. Robert Kasberg, Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs. He said that part of the school’s mission is to provide opportunities for members of the TUSDM community to learn about and respect the many cultures and heritages reflected at the school.

“As one of the most diverse dental schools is in the country, we encourage all of our students, staff and faculty to respect one another’s cultural and religious heritages,” he said. “One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is through holding events where the TUSDM family can learn about and celebrate the traditions and history represented in our diverse community. “