Ghanaian Janice Darko Becomes First Black Woman to Graduate from University of Utah School of Dentistry

The countdown is on until graduation day for the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry. It’s set for next Friday, May 19 at Kingsbury Hall and this year one of the graduates will hold a special place in the school’s history books.

Janice Darko, an African immigrant from Ghana will become the first Black woman to graduate from U of U’s Dental School.

A spokesperson with the school’s marketing communication department said the dental program is fairly young. It’s only been in operation for roughly 10 years. But the work continues to attract more students of color into the program.

Once accepted to the U’s School of Dentistry, Janice Darko knew she had to do her part in creating a space to celebrate diversity at the school.

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Darko came up with an idea of showcasing the artistic side of her fellow students and faculty.

An art display was strategically set up in an area where people can stop and check out various art created.

The goal, to help people learn about Darko’s African heritage as a Ghanaian and to celebrate other cultures and talents represented at the school.

Dr. Bart Watts, DDS interviewed Janice when she applied to the U’s dental school.

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

He was also very impressed with the art display she created, once she attended the dental program.

“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,” said Dr. Watts.

Janice’s family immigrated to the United States from Ghana. She’s managed to handle a full plate of responsibilities during her time in school. She’s also a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“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 overall being the first Black woman to graduate from the U’s dental school is something she’s very proud of.

“This is bigger than me. This is not just about me. This is about representing my community,” said Darko.

Dr. Watts knows potential students of color may hesitate about applying to the U’s predominantly white dental school.

“Apply. Come. Come. Just because Dentistry has been traditionally white profession in the state of Utah for so many years, that doesn’t mean that the profession is closed to anyone else,” Watts said.

Dr. Watts explained that the school is looking for students from every background to apply. By having a diverse student body, he said it enriches everyone’s experience.


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