By Saul Lopez, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
The Marquette University School of Dentistry is home to nearly 400 students — Chante Parker now has the unique privilege of serving nearly half of them as the second-year class president. She is the first African American to hold the distinction.
An Atlanta native, Parker received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and immunology from the University of Miami before she made her way to Milwaukee to pursue her dream of becoming a dentist. She chose Marquette, she says, because of its reputation.
“Once I started looking into the school and seeing what they had to offer,” Parker recalls, “The reputation of Marquette [preceded it]. It felt like a better opportunity for me.”
When asked about her transition to Milwaukee, Parker says she felt a total culture shock. “I think I feel color boundaries once I step outside the dental school,” Parker said. “In Atlanta, my mayor is Black, my city councilmen are Black… I’m not used to people going out of their way to tell me they’re proud of me simply because they’re not used to seeing successful people of color.”
But Parker says she found Marquette to be a welcoming, supportive environment and that this helped facilitate her transition. Even more, Parker’s election confirms that her classmates trust her to advocate on their behalf and be the class’ official voice.
As president, Parker serves as the liaison between second-year students and the school’s administration. She and her vice president will bring ideas and concerns to the administration, advocating for services, suggesting new programs and looking for ways to improve the student experience. Parker already has plans for a “Buddy Day” in which second-year students are paired with first-year students in a mentorship model.
Amber May, director of the School of Dentistry’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, says that for a lot of dental students of color, it is often impossible to separate their culture from their experiences, sometimes leading to students struggling with impostor syndrome and other problems that her office mitigates through discussion, programming or direct mediation.
May considers Parker’s election a huge win for the class. “It’s one thing to belong and to be accepted — it’s another thing to lead,” May says. “To have your voice as the one people lean into for expertise — that’s inclusion, which is different than diversity.”
Parker believes she was elected because she is a strong leader. She wants to help her classmates’ voices be heard and believes she is the person who can do this best.
Even though dental school can be stressful and challenging, Parker hopes she will be someone who her classmates can lean on through their journeys. She often asks fellow students, “When you go home at the end of the day, do you want to wake up the next day and go back?”
The answer, she says, makes all the difference.
“I believe that every dental student should have that moment where they want to continue in dentistry.”