Trojan Tales

Trojan Tales: USC's First Black Graduate and the Representation of Diversity in the School of Dentistry

At the turn of the century, the average worker earned about twenty cents an hour, sheet music and player pianos were selling like hotcakes and John Somerville was making history as the first black man to graduate from the University of Southern California.

John Alexander Somerville emigrated to the US from Jamaica in the early 1900s. He became the University of Southern California's first black graduate, when he graduated from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry in 1907. His wife, Vada Watson, in 1912 became the dental school's second black graduate and the university's first black woman graduate.

More than a century later, Djavan Wharton-Lake, specializing in endodontics, believes that the USC dental school is internationally diverse, but that there is still a lack of diversity concerning African Americans.

"I feel that internationally we're very diverse, but I don't see too many African Americans here," said Lake. "When I came here I saw that I was the only black student in all of the specialty programs in the dental school."

The Herman Ostrow Dental School emphasizes the fact that their program is internationally diverse, with over 13 different countries represented by their student body. But there are gaps in the data, namely domestic representation.

"One of the things I tend to think about, as I walk around these halls, is that I rarely see people that look like me. So I do want to represent African Americans and my culture in the best way possible. To hear about somebody like John Somerville — that's a big deal."

Lake talked about the dental school since Somerville.

"1907 was over a hundred years ago," said Lake. "I would be interested to see how diverse the program has been over the years and how the numbers have increased, because it could obviously increase a lot more."