Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Diversity Spotlight: Dr. David Rosenstein (part one)

by Rachel Blume

The following post is part one of a two-part series inspired by our oral history interview with David Rosenstein, DMD, MPH. The interview transcript is available here.

Photograph of David Rosenstein, with a patient, at the Russell Street Clinic, sometime in the 1980s
David Rosenstein at the Russell Street Clinic
OHSU Historical Collections & Archives is excited about highlighting materials that showcase and celebrate diversity and inclusion within our collections. In this two-part blog series, I will be highlighting our oral history interview with Dr. David Rosenstein, which provides an excellent opportunity to facilitate this objective. While Dr. Rosenstein was an excellent Dentist and Professor at the OHSU Dental School, he also demonstrated an advocacy for diverse people and groups that we should all strive toward.

Growing up in the housing projects of Boston, Rosenstein spent his childhood living in poverty due to the physical disabilities of his parents. Despite this difficult start to life, including a stint in reform school as a boy, he went on to attend the Harvard School of Dentistry. His experience with his classmates would play a key role in shaping his future at OHSU, a point he makes during his interview:
They couldn’t survive the way the kids I grew up with survived. But their last names were names that you would recognize. And they were wealthy. And I thought, this is really a rip-off. And I really got angry. And I decided I was going to take my Harvard education and use it to help people who were like myself. You know, who lived in the shadow of life.
Dr. Rosenstein would get that chance with the opening of Portland’s Russell Street Clinic.

As a new faculty member at OHSU in the 1970s, David Rosenstein experienced discrimination on both a personal level and as a witness to it within OHSU and the dental school. Being one of a mere handful of Jewish staff and students, he was often treated differently (even though the OHSU community found his heritage less upsetting than his Democratic political views). Rosenstein’s views were a cause of great contention between himself and other OHSU members, including various deans and committees. But, they also connected him with other faculty working on mutually concerning issues. Dean Terkla, for example, was particularly admired by Rosenstein and he discusses Terkla's support for their African American students in particular. A story of specific influence explains an interaction between the Dean and faculty members that were upset to have an African American student at the bottom of the class and wanted to know what action would be taken. To this, Terkla replied:
So we’ll do with this black kid what we did with all the white kids. We’ll give him all the help we can and make him the best dentist we can. Now are there any more questions?
Photograph of Dean Louis Terkla from around 1975.
Dean Louis Terkla
But the issues with racism within the school continued to be an ever-present struggle. In 1979, Rosenstein would participate in what he called "the biggest deal of my career." An African American student accused a faculty member of failing him unjustly, citing racism as the cause. Because the student chose to file a grievance, the issue was taken to the Affirmative Action Committee, which Dr. Rosenstein was in charge of. The initial response of Rosenstein and the other committee members was that the grievance filed by this student was groundless, pointing out that the student did not have the best grades. Yet, through interviews and the investigation process a very different picture was painted. Rosenstein was shocked to hear faculty members make statements to the student like: "you should be driving a Pepsi truck" and "go back to Africa."

In the most severe turn of events the committee asked to see the grading rubric used for the course. After studying all the students, Rosenstein discovered that using the given rubric for the course many other students should have been failing as well. When confronted, the faculty members changed their minds and came back with a new grading scheme, but it yielded the same result. The African American student would indeed have failed had those formats been used, but so would have as many as 7 other students every time they reworked their system. After hours spent re-grading and evaluating, the committee came back and declared illegal discrimination. Not only was the student reinstated, he was offered free tuition for the duration of his education at OHSU.

In 1975, Dr. Rosenstein with the help of Gary Chiodo and other OHSU dental professionals started the Russell Street Clinic. Originally the Fred Hampton Memorial People’s Health Clinic, is was started in cooperation with the Black Panthers of Portland and participating doctors such as Jon Moscow in 1969. Finding it increasingly difficult for the African American Community to access the health care they needed, the free clinic opened its doors to address this need.(1)

Fred Hampton People's Free Health Clinic(2)
Taken over by OHSU, the clinic was converted into a free dental clinic thanks to a Kaiser grant program with the same overall mission in mind: to serve diverse peoples that desperately needed access to healthcare, but would not or could not be seen elsewhere. Rosenstein was finally fulfilling his aspiration from his college days. In 1980s, the Clinic was confronted with a challenge that came in the form of an epidemic that hit at the heart of the LGBT community, AIDS.

Next week, learn more about Rosenstein and the Russell Street Clinic's roles in serving the LGBT community and others affected by the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. If you have any records relating to the Russell Street Clinic or its predecessor, the Fred Hampton People's Free Health Clinic, and would like to donate them to our archives, please contact Steve Duckworth, University Archivist, at 503-494-0186.

1. Gies, M. (2009). Radical Treatment. Reed Magazine. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://www.reed.edu/reed_magazine/winter2009/features/radical_treatment/index.html
2. Gies, M. (n.d.). Black Panthers In Portland. The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 31, 2017 from https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/black_panthers_in_portland/#.WKIQNBiZNYc