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FDL Movie Night: “From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory’s Dental School History””

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In the short documentary From Silence to Recognition, father and son filmmakers David Hughes Duke and John Duke explore a painful part of the history of Emory University and its Jewish students: the consistent abuse of Jewish students in the University’s School of Dentistry which lead to a 65% flunk-out/withdrawal rate over the thirteen years that John E. Buhler was the Dean of that department. (Prior to the appointment of Buhler–who had a spotty record at other institutions–the attrition rate was 13%).

In 2006, Dr. Perry Brickman, an Atlanta dentist whose interviews lead to the creation of tonight’s film, attended a exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of Emory’s Jewish studies program where he saw an exhibit assembled by Professor Eric Goldstein that included detailed information about the anti-Semitism in Emory’s School of Dentistry.

Dr. Brickman had entered the dental program in 1952 with an early admission, and had a good grade point average. He had never failed a class, yet the summer between his first and second year of dental school he received a letter stating that he had flunked out, that he lacked the manual skills to be a dentist. He was not alone…

Of the 39 Jews who Brickman said enrolled during the Buhler era (all men), a dozen were flunked out, and only three of those went on to become dentists. Fifteen were forced to repeat course work–in some cases a year or more of classes.

Lack of manual skills was often the reasons cited, though one former student later became a successful painter, and another who Buhler accused of

not having the hands

was assigned to work on faculty members who were pleased with this work. One student was accused of cheating, while his Christian study partner was not. The shame of failure, the embarrassment and pain haunted these men for decades. Many never revealed their “failure” at Emory to their spouses, children, or friends.

But finally, in 1961, a group of students stood up to Buhler and filed complaints of anti-Semitism; first with the Jewish Community Relations Council, who basically lectured them about why they hadn’t done better, telling them to tone down their complaints; and then with the Southeast Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.  The ADL’s Regional Director, Art Levin, took the charges seriously and began an investigation, presenting his findings not to Emory’s President, but to the Dean of Faculty, who was especially incensed by the School of Dentistry’s application form which asked


which was especially repellent because Emory was not a segregated school.

Buhler left in 1961, but denied that his anti-Semitism played a part. And Levin faced a great deal of community pressure for his efforts, he stepped down from his position in 1962.  In 2011, Brickman presented his findings to Gary Hauk, Emory’s Vice President and Deputy to the President. And in 2011, in a private meeting and then a public ceremony, attended by hundreds, Emory President James W. Wagner apologized.

From Silence to Recognition sheds light on anti-Semitism in America, a subtle and pervasive force which, like all forms of bigotry, eats away at our nation’s goodness and strengths.


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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.