Social Work Takes Action Against Racism: The example of #SWeduActs National Teach-In. #MacroSW Chat 10-15-20

by Pat Shelly, University at Buffalo School of Social Work @UBSSW

Mural of Breonna Taylor in Providence, R.I. Artist: Kendall Joseph

Mural of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Artists: Xena Goldman, Greta McLain, and Cadex Herrera, with the help of Niko Alexander and Pablo Hernandez.

In these times, we endure a double pandemics: One is the coronavirus, and the much older pandemic of racism in the U.S. The storm of protests following the murder of George Floyd on May 25 has also swept into the social work profession. While many groups of social workers have been addressing our discipline’s legacy as a refuge for structural racism and challenges its white colleagues to confront white supremacy.
(Check out @SWcares2: Social Work Coalition ForAnti-Racist Educators | Dismantling white supremacy in social work education.)

This week, the chat will look at how social work schools, students, faculty and colleagues in practice are taking action against racism, plus we’ll ask you to share examples of this work from your practice, agency or school.

I’ve been involved in planning the #SWeduActs National Teach-in on Police Brutality and Structural Racism* on October 27th; this is just one example of how schools of social work are taking action to  confront and ameliorate racism in its institutions, practices, and curriculum.  We’re pleased to welcome one of the two facilitators of the Teach-In, Dr. Elspeth Slayter @elspethslayter of Salem State University. Dr. Lauri Goldkind of Fordham University, which is hosting the virtual event, will be the other facilitator.

The #SWeduActs Teach-In all started with a tweet. Following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis policeman, there were protests, marches, and calls to defund or abolish the police. There was also heavy traffic on social media platforms, with #GeorgeFloyd and#DefundPolice the most common hashtags. This tweet from Dr. Desmond Patton of Columbia University appeared on June 2:

Schools of Social Work, can we join initiatives related to police violence? I know we’re responsive to our
own communities but it would be powerful to link up. #socialwork #macrosocialwork #swtech @UChicagoSSA @UBSSW@UH_SocialWork

The tweet galvanized a group of social work educators. Over two dozen Twitter respondents met virtually on June 10 to discuss this challenge. We were committed to action, and decided on a teach-in on police brutality and structural racism to be held early in the Fall 2020 semester. At our respective schools of social work, the protests against the police killings of Black people led to town halls, trauma-response sessions with students, and many statements by students, deans, faculty and staff taking an anti-racist stance. This was one way to carry those efforts forward.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How would you define the problem of white supremacy in the social work profession?
  2. What has your school/internship/agency/workplace done in response to this summer’s protests, which magnified the pandemic of racial injustice?
  3. What elements of community organizing have you observed through recent protests
    on police brutality?
  4. What successes from these protests have you seen?


Community Toolbox:  Here’s a simple graphic of the process of community organizing.
Adapted from:
Mizrahi, T. 2014. “Community Organizing Principles and Practice Guidelines–revised”
In The Social Workers’ Desk Reference, 3rd Edition, NY: Oxford University Press
This pdf is for educational purposes only. 1:33 min video

*You’re invited to the Social Work National Teach-In on Police Brutality and Structural Racism on October 27, 2020 at 7 PM ET / 4 PM PT. You can register for this virtual event here.

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