Rutgers School of Social Work’s Office of Continuing Education hosted its sixth annual Challenging Racial Disparities Conference, “A Call to Action,” on Wednesday, June 1, bringing together more than 700 social workers and allied professionals for a powerful learning opportunity.
Dean and Distinguished Professor Cathryn C. Potter welcomed participants to the virtual event and offered initial remarks. “Social justice and antiracism imperatives are a part of social workers’ calling and our commitment as a profession,” she said. “At this time in history, it feels especially urgent. Every generation gets a time to stand up and choose justice, and it feels like this is the time. What I know about our profession is that social workers have always stepped up to that call.”
The opening keynote, “Expanding Our Understanding of Stigma & Inclusion Efforts Through the Lens of Generalized Prejudice,” was provided by Diana T. Sanchez, PhD, who is a Full Professor in the Rutgers University Psychology Department and a Faculty Fellow in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division Dean’s Office.
The main keynote was delivered by Michael Eric Dyson, PhD. Dr. Dyson is a compelling speaker and one of America’s premier public intellectuals. He is the author of over 20 books, including seven New York Times bestsellers. Dr. Dyson is a Georgetown University sociology professor, a New York Times contributing opinion writer, a political analyst for MSNBC, a contributing editor of The New Republic, and a best-selling author. Dr. Dyson is the recipient of two NAACP Image Awards and the 2020 Langston Hughes Festival Medallion.
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 Associate Professor of Professional Practice Dr. Tawanda Hubbard, which garnered a powerful audience reaction. Panelists included Bonnie Cushing, LCSW, Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik of Rutgers, Dr. Dyson, and Dr. Sanchez.
Attendees gained new skills and ideas to address issues of race in their practice with clients, organizations, communities, and within themselves. “The fact that it is an annual conference speaks volumes to the need for it,” said an attendee. “For this person of color, it is an annual validation that what I see and experience is not an illusion. I appreciated Dr. Chan-Malik's suggestion to put efforts into actions…Thanks for another meaningful experience.”