Rutgers School of Social Work hosted its fifth annual Challenging Racial Disparities Conference, “A Call to Action,” on Wednesday, June 2, bringing together social workers and allied professionals for a powerful learning opportunity on the topic of racial disparities and white privilege. More than 300 participants attended the virtual conference, which was organized by the School of Social Work’s Office of Continuing Education.
Dean and Distinguished Professor Cathryn C. Potter, Ph.D. offered initial remarks to attendees, and the opening keynote was presented by Dr. Catherine Lee, an associate professor in the Departments of Sociology & Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University. Dr. Lee spoke on how to confront the legacy of Asian exclusion and anti-Asian racism.
Dorothy Roberts, JD served as the keynote speaker and shared anti-racist lessons for social workers on the topic of Black women and reproductive justice. Roberts is a professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, with joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies, Sociology, and the Law School. She is the founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science, and Society.
An internationally recognized scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate, she has written and lectured extensively on race, gender, and class inequities in U.S. institutions and has been a leader in transforming public thinking and policy on reproductive freedom, child welfare, and bioethics. She is the author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, and Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century. In 2019, she received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Rutgers University-Newark. Her TED Talk, “The Problem with Race-Based Medicine,” has more than one million views.
The keynote lecture is offered each year in honor of social work professor Dr. William Neal Brown, the first black professor at Rutgers, who passed away in 2009. Dr. Brown's longtime partner, Suzanne Zimmer, supports the annual conference as a way to acknowledge his legacy and contributions to Rutgers, which have historically gone unnoticed.
Following the keynotes was a panel discussion moderated by Assistant Director of Recruitment and Admission & Assistant Professor of Teaching Christine Morales, LCSW. Panelists included Elsa Candelario, MSSW, LCSW, Bonnie Cushing, LCSW, Catherine Lee, PhD, and Dorothy Roberts, JD. Morales posed challenging questions submitted by audience members, and the panel answered thoughtfully. Much of the discussion was centered on the many ways white people can stand in solidarity with Black, indigenous, and people of color and how these efforts can be sustained over the long term.
Attendees gained new skills and ideas to address issues of race in their practice with clients, organizations, communities, and within themselves.