School of Social Work

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

Dear School of Social Work Students,

Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year at the VCU School of Social Work. Last week, we kicked off the fall semester with orientation and welcome sessions for one of our largest ever incoming classes – 298 M.S.W. students, 79 new B.S.W. students, and 4 new Ph.D. students – who join nearly 600 continuing students. We are gratified that a thirst for social justice has continued to draw so many into our profession at a most pivotal moment in history.

No doubt we can all agree that the past few months have made unequivocally clear the need for our profession to face the crises our society is confronting in the present moment, most notably that of systemic racism. While all of our lives have been upended by the pandemic, there are clearly deep disparities in impact, with Black and Latinx people being most susceptible to acquiring the virus and most likely to die as a result. These disparities are rooted in systems of disadvantage – health care inequity, crowded and substandard housing conditions, and precarious jobs in which essential workers lack the ability to socially distance. In addition, the recent examples of Black individuals dying at the hands of police have brought widespread awareness and outrage regarding the basic human rights that have long been systematically denied to Black people in our society. As social workers, you will be on the front lines of confronting these issues in your work every day.

Portrait of Dean Beth Angell, Ph.D., dark blouse and checked blazer
Beth Angell, Ph.D., dean

Portrait of Rebecca Gomez, Ph.D., magenta blouse and blue blazer
Rebecca Gomez, Ph.D., associate dean

As we join together in our classes and field placements this fall, it is therefore essential that we center our learning around ways that we can, through our practice and research efforts, reckon with our role as social workers in dismantling racism, particularly anti-Black racism. The scourge of racism is not new, but it is critical that we galvanize the moment we are in to consciously work toward change at all levels, no matter whether our practice is centered on working with individuals or focused on policies and organizations. Being equipped for anti-racism work requires identifying our own biases, unlearning habits of thinking and being, and making concrete commitments to work toward creating more just policies and systems.

Here in the School of Social Work, our faculty and staff will also be committing ourselves to identifying and addressing anti-Black racism within our own walls, as our new Racial Justice Task Force begins its work. This task force, which will comprise full time and adjunct faculty, students, staff, and alumni, will engage us all in aligning our values as a School of Social Work with our actions around racial justice, internally and externally, throughout the academic year. To set the tone for this effort, we encourage you all to attend our School Convocation, which will be held via Zoom on Friday, Aug. 28, from 4-5:30 p.m. An invitation with instructions for how to register and join the ceremony will be sent out over email this week.

In the meantime, we wish you all a successful first week of classes. Our faculty and staff have been working hard all summer to ensure that we are prepared to provide you with exceptional learning experiences, even with the adaptations that have been required due to the pandemic. We know that the situation is fluid and the adaptation will be ongoing, and therefore, we invite you to reach out for help and guidance when you need it – whether to your faculty instructors, your student success advisor, or to either of us. We hope that in the coming years, you will look back to remember your time at the VCU School of Social Work as a transformative learning experience full of support, connection, and a strongly rooted professional identity.

Best Wishes,

Beth Angell signature

Beth Angell
Dean and Professor

Rebecca Gomez, Ph.D., LCSW
Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs and Associate Professor

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Categories Education, From the dean, Program news, Students

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