SIU School of Dental Medicine Names Cornell Thomas Chief Diversity Officer

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The Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (SDM) is increasing its concentration on diversity, equity, inclusion and well-being. SIU SDM Dean Bruce Rotter, DMD, has appointed Cornell Thomas, DDS, as chief diversity officer and director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

SIU School of Dental Medicine’s Cornell Thomas, DDS, chief diversity officer, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and assistant dean for Admissions and Student Services.

“This added emphasis on equity and diversity issues is both extremely important and timely for the future growth and direction of the SDM. Dr. Thomas’ leadership will positively affect all members of the SDM community.”

The Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (SDM) is increasing its concentration on diversity, equity, inclusion and well-being. SIU SDM Dean Bruce Rotter, DMD, has appointed Cornell Thomas, DDS, as chief diversity officer and director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Thomas will maintain his role as assistant dean for Admissions and Student Services, but will place a more focused and sustained emphasis on diversity and equity issues. His dedication to “lower barriers not lower standards” has been woven in his exemplary efforts to advance the SDM since his tenure began in 1979.

“Dr. Thomas has led numerous diversity efforts on our campus for several years, but due to his many other duties has not had the opportunity to devote the amount of effort we feel this role deserves,” Rotter said. “This added emphasis on equity and diversity issues is both extremely important and timely for the future growth and direction of the SDM. Dr. Thomas’ leadership will positively affect all members of the SDM community.”

“I am honored to serve in this capacity,” Thomas said. “It is work that I have been doing, but I can now devote more time and energy to focus on this endeavor. I have support from my dean, Dr. Bruce Rotter, who shares in my vision about the work in diversity, equity and inclusion. He has provided the opportunity to move us forward. He has a clear insightfulness to bring change for the betterment of the SDM. With his shared vision, we can make a difference in how we develop and sustain an inclusive environment in which faculty, staff, students, administrators and patients can connect.”

As the chief diversity officer, Thomas will facilitate communication for SDM to the essential values of anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion for faculty, staff and students. Thomas will provide support for Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and historically underrepresented people at the SDM.

“The DEI Office will provide transparency across and among groups in an effort to increase the numbers of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty, staff and students at the SDM,” Thomas explained. “The office will empower the campus community to maintain an environment as it relates to honesty, civility and open-mindedness. The office will strive to dismantle systemic racism and oppression. We can build a sense of togetherness and inclusivity in our teaching, research and service to each other and the communities that we serve.”

According to Thomas, specific initiatives include:

  • Increase enrollment of URMs at the SDM and increase the number of faculty and staff of color
  • Provide diversity and inclusion training to continue a safe and welcoming environment on our campus
  • Develop and implement a plan to recruit faculty from underrepresented groups
  • Provide advocacy for SDM students, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups, other cultures and genders, races and LGBTQIA groups.
  • Provide mentoring for these groups to thrive in the campus environment

In support of Thomas’ additional roles, Admissions and Records Supervisor Angela Pritchett will take responsibility for the direction of daily operations in the SDM Office of Admissions and Student Services.

The SIU School of Dental Medicine students manage approximately 35,000 patient visits each year at its patient clinics in Alton and East St. Louis. In addition, students offer oral health treatment, screenings and education to more than 10,000 people annually through a wide variety of off-campus community outreach events. These opportunities provide students the training they need to graduate and become highly skilled dentists. The School of Dental Medicine is a vital oral health care provider for residents of southern and central Illinois, and the St. Louis metropolitan region.

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