Ghanaian Becomes First Black Woman to Graduate from University of Utah’s School of Dentistry

by Xara Aziz
University of Utah

The University of Utah has just announced that a Ghanaian immigrant will become the first Black woman to graduate from its Dental School.

Janice Darko, who recently moved from Ghana to the United States to further her education, said that the recognition is bigger than herself.

“This is not just about me,” Darko told KUTV. “This is about representing my community.”

According to the university, its dental program has only been in existence for 10 years, but it stood by its efforts in incorporating diversity into its program by attracting more students of color.

When Darko was admitted into the U’s School of Dentistry, she knew that celebrating a sense of belonging would be important as she matriculated there, so she decided to create an art gallery where students, faculty, staff and guests could check out the artistic side of the people on campus.

The goal, she said, was to encourage students to learn more about her Ghanaian heritage and to help them learn more about commemorating the cultures and talents of those from different parts of the world

One of Darko’s supporters, who played an integral role in her acceptance to the school, was Dr. Bart Watts, DDS, who interviewed Darko when she first applied.

“When I interviewed her I realized what a remarkable young woman that I was interviewing,” Dr. Watts said.

He further added that he was enthralled by the art display she created, which added to her talents as a future dentist.

“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.”

In addition to her recent accomplishments, Darko also serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve. She says she is more than ready to handle the full plate of responsibilities that will come once she graduates.

“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 of those responsibilities,” she said.

But above all else, to be the first Black woman to graduate from the university’s dental program is something she will never take lightly.

For other prospective students of color who are interested in attending the U’s School of Dentistry, Dr. Watts offers this piece of advice.

“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,” he said.

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