School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and it does seem to me that notwithstanding all these social agencies and activities there is not that vigilance which should be exercised in the preservation of our rights.”  Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”  – Jane Addams, Philanthropy and Social Progress (1893)

“The trouble with some of us is that we protest too much in secret and behind closed doors and will not speak boldly…in tones so loud and clear that they will ring around the whole civilized world. Some of us are afraid to agitate in behalf of a good cause.” – Mary Church Terrell Papers: Speeches and Writings, 1866-1953

“Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully…Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity…” Social Work Code of Ethics, Section 6

From its inception, the profession of social work has insisted that we recognize, name, and address systems of oppression wherever they exist. That fundamental truth was present when our School was founded in 1917, and it remains true in 2020. Throughout the intervening years, social workers and educators affiliated with this school have remained vigilant in the struggle for human rights and social and economic justice.  Sometimes we have led the charge; sometimes, as Black social work pioneer Mary Church Terrell admonished in 1924, fear has led us to protest only in private, not “in tones so loud and clear.” 

In this moment of national reckoning over centuries of direct, state sanctioned assault on Black lives, we are again called to choose whether we will raise our voices loudly and clearly for full and equal human rights, especially in the wake of anti-Black racism and police violence. Many of our School of Social Work students and alumni stand on the front lines of this struggle for justice; this week, one of them faced arrest while engaging in social and political protest in the city of Richmond. In solidarity, we declare our unwavering support for their activism.

The struggle for justice can be loud, risky, messy, and uncomfortable. As Mary Church Terrell suggested, such agitation is necessary because we cannot assume that the foundations of our institutions are necessarily benevolent and just. (If they were, it might be easier to change them by asking nicely). In social work education, we teach our students to challenge the assumptions of social institutions, to confront the beliefs and practices rooted in white supremacy, and to organize to demand change hand in hand with the communities they serve. In recent days, we have proudly witnessed them using these lessons to take action, embodying a spirit of justice through peaceful protests, community engagement, and, yes – active confrontations with systems of power and policing. These actions emerge not from recklessness, but (as Ida B. Wells reminded us) from vigilance. The pathways to change are not always smooth, and not always peaceful. But always, they must be designed to shed light on injustice and offer solutions and changes in the face of oppression until, as Addams suggests, it is secured for all of us in our common life.

By our signatures, we proudly stand with our students, staff, and faculty on the front lines of protests. We do so recognizing the history, present, and future imperative of our profession. We may or may not all be physically present on the front lines but we, the undersigned, support those who are raising their voices at this crucial moment in the life of our city, nation, and world.

Beth Angell, Ph.D., dean and professor

Sarah Kye Price, Ph.D., associate dean for faculty development and professor

Add your name in solidarity.

Categories Alumni, Community, Faculty and staff, Students
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