Dean’s update: BHM & our commitment to social, racial justice
Dear SSW Community,
February marks Black History Month, when we are invited to celebrate the role and contributions of Black Americans to American history. As Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway reminded us in a recent New York Times editorial, the recognition of Black History Month can be made deeper and more meaningful if it “produces a bright light by which we can make an honest assessment of how well our actions align with the ideals that have led us to proclaim that ours is a special nation.”
My hope is that our School community will engage in the celebration of Black History and ALSO in the more challenging reflection process President Holloway spoke about in his op-ed. As many of you know, our School has been working over the past year to reckon with our own failure to adequately acknowledge and rectify racism within our own organization and to commit ourselves to movement toward an anti-racist future. We recently added a new section to our website to keep our community informed about these efforts and to hold ourselves accountable for continued progress and action. Over the past few months, our School faculty and staff developed a Statement of Commitment to Social and Racial Justice and many members of our School community have engaged in initiatives to address racism in our School culture and climate, our curriculum, and our policies and practices – including this year’s Racial Justice Fellows. As dean, I am calling for all of our School administrators, faculty, and staff to consider how we will live into this commitment in the work we do every day. I urge our students to engage in similar reflection.
Our celebrations of Black History Month this year are happening virtually due to physical distancing, but are no less meaningful. Our own Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) chapter has prepared us some deeply beautiful (and COVID-friendly) ways to celebrate Black History and engage as a community:
- An online interface, “Black History Month 2021: Celebrating Black Stories and Honoring Black Lives,” where students, faculty and staff have posted tributes and remembrances as text, photos and video.
- ABSW is posting content to its Facebook and Instagram accounts each week during the month that focuses on a particular theme and community organization that is actively working for change in that area. The first three posts are about mental health, juvenile justice reform and youth development.
- Starting with a post about former School of Social Work Dean Grace E. Harris, Ph.D., ABSW is also commemorating Black pioneers in social work and social and racial justice throughout the month. You can find these on the school’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
We also celebrate current-day Black Americans making a difference in our VCU community through the celebration of Black History in the Making, organized by VCU’s Department of African American Studies. Each year, our School nominates students and a member of our faculty who exemplify academic excellence and service to the university or community. This year’s winners of the Black History in the Making Award for the School of Social Work include:
- Phyllis King Carr, M.S.W. student
- Ruth Tiguh, B.S.W. student
- Cieara Battle, M.S.W. student
- Jerica Thompson, B.S.W. student
- Oscar Kemp, B.S.W. student
- Dr. Nicole Corley, Assistant Professor
When we have more information about the Black History in the Making virtual ceremony honoring our winners and those across the University, we will make it available via the Resource Wire and our social media channels so we all can participate.
I know many of us feel a heavy weight as we proceed through a difficult winter and await the day when we can engage in learning, discussions, and community in person once again. I want to thank all of you who are helping to lift up Black lives and Black leadership in celebrating Black History Month and engaging in important and challenging conversations in and out of the classroom.
My very best to you all,
Beth Angell, Ph.D.
Dean and professor
VCU School of Social Work