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Statement from Dean Cathryn C. Potter on Racial Justice
June 1, 2020

Dear Rutgers Social Work Community,

I write to you in deep sadness for the state of our country during a time of deep social strain and constant injustice. As the Dean of a school of social work, I know that I can affirm, for our profession, many things:

  • That our profession stands passionately and unalterably opposed to the 400+ years of violent racism and murder in this land, and to the current, terrible continuation of that history that results in the ongoing murder of Black citizens, including those in the past weeks: Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breonna Taylor, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, and others whose deaths were not filmed or publicized and whose names we do not know.
  • That this violent, racist history is as much a pandemic as is the health pandemic we are currently experiencing.
  • That the COVID-19 pandemic has called our attention, yet again, to the ways that many adverse social conditions and disruptions disproportionately affect Black, other minority, indigenous and immigrant communities, partly due to systemic racism. 
  • That we see clearly that our societal responses to COVID-19 have shifted since we publicly named that disproportionality – shifted in ways that put vulnerable people and communities more at risk.
  • That we know that social change comes through struggle and protest, and that we stand ready to support and join this protest movement, knowing that our colleagues are weary in the fight.
  • That we have hope for a new way of living built on the ashes of the struggle for justice.
  • That as Rutgers social workers we commit to building that long overdue reality.

As a white, female social worker (so many of my social work colleagues are), I am so much less sure what to say. That I feel angry, frustrated, wanting to act, but unsure how best to do so. That I know those emotions pale in comparison to the experience of many colleagues and friends. That I am sorry and guilty for my own participation in, and profit from, our current ways of living, from our national blindness and turning away from the fight for social justice. That I hope to choose the right ways to be a good follower to the many Black, minority, indigenous and immigrant leaders that will form the next, powerful social movement. 

In that spirit, I offer you, with her permission, the letter that Dr. Sandra Crewe, Dean of the Howard School of Social Work, one of the nation’s preeminent Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sent to her community on Friday.

Dear “Howard” Social Work Students:

Many events are taking place that cause individual and collective pain. This week the United States surpassed 100,000 deaths related to COVID-19 and globally the loss is almost 360,000 lives. We are indeed in challenging times. Added to the concerns of the pandemic is the disproportionate impact on Black, Red and Brown families. And, the recent death by deadly force of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis adds to our deep pain.  As an important individual who lost his life in full view of the nation, he also represents the many lives lost through racist behaviors in this country. I extend my sincere condolences to the families and communities that have been infected and affected by the COVID-19 and VIOLENCE pandemics in our nation.

As social work students and recent graduates, I know that you are processing all that is happening. I know how discouraging it is. Yet, I hope that you are reminded of the importance you can play in the world with your focus on the Black Perspective, its signature principle of social justice, and the importance of the dignity and worth of all persons. Today, we need individuals like you to carry forth a message of caring and healing. The Black Perspective provides context for understanding the rage and outrage that communities feel and reinforces the importance of not allowing simplistic explanations for complicated phenomena. 

As a mother, when Mr. Floyd called out “Mama” in his plea to be allowed to breathe, I heard him call out to me. It could have been my sons, your sons, your spouses, your brothers, your fathers, your uncles, your cousins, or your acquaintances. I heard him calling out for help from all of us who stand on the side of social justice. I urge each of you to continue to do your part as “Howard-prepared” social workers. Whether you tweet, write a letter to the newspaper, send a financial contribution to a food bank, or simply unite spiritually, let’s each do our part. As a “2020” social worker, I hope you also heard your name called as a social justice warrior.

Respectfully,

Sandra Edmonds Crewe, Dean

On Tuesday, June 2, Rutgers School of Social Work’s Fourth Annual Challenging Racial Disparities Conference begins at 9:00 am. Designed with the practitioner in mind, this webinar will provide social workers and allied professionals with a powerful learning opportunity on the topic of racial disparities and white privilege. The keynote speaker this year is Dr. Robin DiAngelo, an influential white anti-racist thinker and author of the bestseller White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Her book takes an unflinching look at white privilege and what it takes to adopt an anti-racist approach, and we expect to engage in tough thinking together. You can register at https://ssw-web.rutgers.edu/ssw/ce/index.php?m=catalog&cid=2119

We will be creating other opportunities to learn and to be led into fuller participation in the remaking of our communities and our country. I also encourage you to consider this important message as we all support colleagues and friends: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/05/9841376/black-trauma-george-floyd-dear-white-people. I offer this knowing there will be multiple perspectives on it.

This Thursday, June 4 at noon, we will hold a faculty-student forum on Valuing Black Lives for SSW students and faculty to talk about this moment in history, about our individual experiences, and about social work responses. Students, please check your email for details.

Cathy

Cathryn C. Potter
Dean and Distinguished Professor  
Rutgers School of Social Work

For a list of resources and actions, including petitions, numbers to call, and places to donate, as well as anti-racist readings, resources for protecting oneself, and additional information around demanding justice, visit our social justice resources page.

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