Rutgers School of Social Work hosted its fourth annual Challenging Racial Disparities Conference, “A Call to Action,” on Tuesday, 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 1,000 participants attended the virtual conference, which was organized by the School of Social Work’s Office of Continuing Education.
This annual event occurred amidst the current, deep social strain in America resulting from the recent murders of Black citizens, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. With these events at front of mind, Dean and Distinguished Professor Cathryn C. Potter, Ph.D. offered initial remarks to attendees, recognizing the need for immediate and sweeping change. "We are all here because of our commitment to social justice and social change," she said. "We're here today to be challenged to commit and recommit to social justice action and to be uncomfortable. If you're not uncomfortable, you're not paying attention."
Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D., author of the bestseller White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, served as the keynote speaker. Dr. DiAngelo is an influential white anti-racist thinker who brings a stirring call to conscience, and most importantly, consciousness. She takes an unflinching look at white privilege and what it takes to adopt an anti-racist approach. 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 Dr. DiAngelo's keynote was a panel discussion moderated by Assistant Director of Recruitment and Admission & Assistant Professor of Teaching Christine Morales, LCSW. Panelists included Sylvia Chan-Malik, Ph.D., Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Jacquelynn Duron, Ph.D., and alumna Alexis Jemal, JD, LCSW, Ph.D. 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.