Emil Briones Receives McGill’s Award for Equity and Community Building

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Within minutes of receiving the notification that Emil Briones had received this year’s McGill Award for Equity and Community Building, both Dean Allison and Associate Dean (Academic) Esfandiari came by my office to make sure I’d heard the news. Such a display of pride and support isn’t surprising when you know how instrumental Emil has been in promoting equity, diversity and anti-oppression within the curriculum of our undergraduate dental students.

Emil Briones“I want to emphasize that it was a collaborative effort,” Emil begins, “Nikoo [Taghavi] has been my biggest supporter through all this.” He also acknowledges the work and support of Drs. Shahrokh Esfandiari, Shaheen Shariff, Richard Hovey and Paul Allison. “None of this would have been possible without their help.”

As part of their Dental Apprenticeship course, a mandatory course, the DMD Class of 2018 got to attend three workshops focusing on equity and social justice issues. McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office offered a first workshop to introduce basic concepts and vocabulary to discuss diversity and equity. “Like a Diversity-101, if you’d like,” Emil summarizes. For some students, it was the first time they received a toolkit to approach, discuss and understand these complex and at times highly emotional topics. “Then, Dr. Shaheen Shariff delivered a featured workshop focusing on digital citizenship and rape culture,” he continues, “and finally, Dr. Richard Hovey discussed ethics and professionalism within the dental profession.”

When asked about how this mandatory curriculum addition came about, Emil replies: “The incident at Dalhousie Dentistry was a rude awakening.” He pauses and adds “We owe it to survivors and people from systemically marginalized backgrounds to do something about it beyond lip-service.” Emil was referring to the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal, where a group of male students set up a Facebook group used to post sexist and misogynist comments about their female classmates, one comment specifically directed at queer women. “Dalhousie happened,” he summarizes, “Nikoo attended a workshop on equity given by Dr. Shariff, Dr. Esfandiari has dedicated his mandate to modernizing our DMD curriculum, and I happen to have seven years of experience in doing anti-oppression and community programming work. A lot of things came together.”

During our moving conversation, Emil cautions: “For this initiative to be sustainable, it cannot be tokenistic. We need staff, faculty and students to invest themselves fully in this exercise. If we as a Faculty talk about patient-centered care, then we also have to acknowledge the lived experiences of these patients. We are here to train caregivers who are committed to excellence equipped with a nuanced and critical understanding of social justice.”

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