Navigating the black student experience at UCLA

Mia Kayser/Daily Bruin

Neither health insurance nor a referral for surgery proved to be sufficient for a UCLA law student to schedule a wisdom tooth extraction.

Myjahnee Crenshaw said a UCLA School of Dentistry office coordinator intentionally interfered with her dental care in fall 2017. Crenshaw, who is black, said she believes the interference occurred because of her race and socio-economic status.

Crenshaw began to experience pain from her wisdom teeth in early summer 2017 and visited the UCLA School of Dentistry for extractions. She decided to have one of her teeth removed before she left for her summer job in the Bay Area and extract the other when she returned to UCLA in the fall.

To expedite the extraction, Crenshaw paid out of pocket for the surgery even though she had UC SHIP, anticipating a reimbursement from the school of dentistry shortly after the procedure. She added she had a good experience with the first removal, and expected a similar experience in the fall for her next extraction.

In the fall of 2017, Crenshaw returned to the School of Dentistry, now insured by Medi-Cal and still awaiting her reimbursement from her first extraction. An office coordinator told her Medi-Cal patients require a referral to be seen at the UCLA dentistry clinic, which Crenshaw then obtained from an outside clinic.

Crenshaw said she believes the subsequent barriers she encountered at the UCLA School of Dentistry clinic were racially and socio-economically charged.

“(My experience in fall 2017) was a totally different experience than what I had in the summer,” she said.

Crenshaw added while it was easy to schedule her first wisdom tooth extraction, she said experienced hostility from an office coordinator upon returning and she believes this prevented her from receiving proper dental care.

The UCLA School of Dentistry representative Brianna Aldrich said in an email that information on the number of wisdom tooth extractions performed per academic year at the UCLA clinic is not available to the public. She also did not provide information on whether patients with UC SHIP and Medi-Cal have to follow different protocols.

Crenshaw returned to the School of Dentistry after receiving the referral; however, the office coordinator said she should now be seen in the walk-in clinic instead of the surgical unit. Crenshaw said the student dentist and overseeing professor at the walk-in clinic put a serum on her second wisdom tooth for the pain and discharged her without discussion of extraction in the future.

Following her walk-in visit, Crenshaw visited her referring clinic, which is unaffiliated with UCLA. The clinic gave her a new referral for surgery on the second tooth, which should allow her to be seen by any dental clinic that can perform an extraction.

When she returned to the School of Dentistry with the referral, she said the office coordinator explicitly told her they did not want to see her.

“I am a patient who they don’t want to provide their services to. (The office coordinator) didn’t make any direct, racially charged comments, (but) she was overall hostile,” Crenshaw said. “I feel I wouldn’t have been treated that way had I not been a black female.”

When Crenshaw approached the office coordinator to ask why she could not be seen, she said the coordinator questioned Crenshaw’s intelligence.

“(The office coordinator said), ‘Are you really telling me that you’re in law school?’” Crenshaw said.

Ultimately, Crenshaw found a dentist outside of UCLA who does not accept Medi-Cal to perform the extraction, and will have to pay out of pocket, without reimbursement, for the procedure.

She said the hostility she felt at UCLA dentistry was not the first time she has felt singled out on campus because of her race.

Crenshaw received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley, a predominately white institution, and said she is used to monolithic atmospheres. However, she added her experience as a black student at UCLA’s law school is different because as an undergraduate she studied African American studies and had a strong sense of community with professors devoted to topics of race.

According to Robert Schwartz, assistant dean of admissions at UCLA School of Law, 57 law students identify either solely or partially as African-American out of 298 total enrolled students. Specific ethnic demographic information is not publicly available on the UCLA School of Law website.

Crenshaw said she is often the only black student in her classes, and feels she has to serve as a representative for her race during class discussions, especially those around topics such as slavery.

“It’s an uncomfortable space to be in and navigate,” Crenshaw said. “(If I) say something inaccurate, … then I’ll be deemed as inferior.”

Crenshaw is currently waiting to have her second wisdom tooth extracted, and has still not received the more than $400 reimbursement for her original procedure.