Lavern Holyfield has dedicated her career to inclusion and diversity in academics

Lavern Holyfield, DDS: A living legacy of diversity and inclusion

How the first African American female to enroll at Texas A&M College of Dentistry has dedicated her career to education and inclusion
February 14, 2018

Forty-three years ago, Lavern Holyfield, DDS, was the first African American woman to enroll at Texas A&M College of Dentistry, what was then known as Baylor College of Dentistry. Ever since, Holyfield has dedicated her career to making sure that the college, the community and Texas A&M nurture the dedication to inclusion, diversity and equity that brought her to the dental school.

1973 was a milestone year, as Holyfield and Jerry Lewis Mathis were the first African-American students accepted by the college.

“I understood the significance of this milestone,” said Holyfield, who is now director of faculty development at the College of Dentistry. “From there, my passion grew.”

Holyfield graduated in 1977, taught part time for several years in the mid-1980s and returned in 1998, receiving a full-time faculty appointment soon thereafter. She volunteered on what was then the Welcoming Diversity Committee and joined the ranks of faculty colleagues such as beloved professor Marvin Hirsh, DDS, a visionary Holyfield described as “passionate about respect and fair treatment for all.”

The committee provided diversity workshops for students and as demand for this training grew, Holyfield even traveled to other dental schools, like the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry, to present the material.

With time, the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation also recognized the need for such cultural competence training, and Holyfield was primed to take the lead on such matters at the College of Dentistry. For years, cultural sensitivity training has been the norm for Texas A&M dental students, and now, Holyfield is overseeing its expansion to faculty and staff.

“It became my personal mission to help make the College of Dentistry a more accepting and inclusive environment,” said Holyfield, who is busy these days implementing IDEA—the college’s Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access.

Outside of the dental school, Holyfield has nearly 30 years of involvement with the South Dallas Business & Professional Women’s Club, which has led to initiatives that foster diversity and inclusion. Some of these areas include a program geared toward building positive relationships between citizens and law enforcement, and a program that celebrates the accomplishments of a number of Dallas-area women. The Dallas City Council recognized these initiatives and honored the group for its six decades of service to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

A growing legacy

While working in dental education wasn’t necessarily in Holyfield’s plans when she started as a student at the college, she said she has enjoyed the path her career has taken.

“Being the first African-American female to matriculate at what was then Baylor College of Dentistry and returning as faculty and director of diversity and faculty development, I’ve come full circle,” Holyfield said. “I want it known that if I had to do this all over again, I would. I’d choose this college and every one of my classmates and instructors, for each of them helped to shape my experiences as a dental professional and my love for the profession. I truly enjoy being here, and it is my goal to help make sure that all faculty, staff, students and patients feel welcome and respected. I want to assure that there is a plan of action that promotes inclusive excellence at the college, in perpetuity.”

In an oversight role, Holyfield is also responsible for faculty development and mentoring.

“The new faculty orientation seminars and the Faculty Mentoring and Career Development Program allow me to help faculty members learn the resources that are available to them and understand what is expected of them,” Holyfield said. “It is rewarding to know that I play a role in guiding them along their paths as academicians.”

The next steps for diversity and inclusion

The formal College of Dentistry Diversity and Inclusion Plan has been vetted by the IDEA Committee and approved by the Administrative Council. The plan calls for expanded efforts to make the college a more diverse and inclusive campus through tactics like cultural competence training.

The college’s work through IDEA builds upon decades of concerted effort through multiple outreach and pipeline programs. These, combined with comprehensive admissions processes, have helped to make the school one of the most diverse in the nation. IDEA seeks to extend this emphasis on inclusion beyond the students to the entire college community.

In an effort to learn from their success, the Texas A&M University Health Science Center has asked Holyfield to serve as chair of the Health Science Center diversity team.

This position will be an annual appointment that will rotate between the Health Science Center diversity committee, which—in addition to Holyfield—includes: Lisako McKyer, PhD, MPH, with the School of Public Health; Juan Bustamante, PhD, with the College of Pharmacy; Dianne Kraft, PhD, with the College of Medicine; and Jodie Gary, PhD, MSN, with the College of Nursing.

This story was adapted from the Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s Dentistry Insider.

— Dominic Hernandez

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