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Statement from Dean Cathryn C. Potter on Social Work Values and Recent Events
September 28, 2020

Rutgers School of Social Work Community,

Friends, it has been quite a week in the life of our country:

  • The lack of charges against sworn officers who killed Breonna Taylor leads to continued, legitimate protest against justice systems.
  • Justice Ginsberg’s death leads to potential supreme court action to negate a number of important policies, including access to health care.
  • A Presidential executive order attacking diversity training speaks against core principles of our profession.
  • Voter suppression activities are occurring at many levels across our country.
  • We are actually having a national discussion about whether there will be a peaceful transition of leadership in our democracy.
  • A host of other important national and local issues of concern that call us to individual and professional responses.

It is difficult to know where to start in response to these assaults on the ideals to which we strive to hold our country. I am certain that I will not be able to say all that is needful so will say only a few key things.

  • When an innocent young woman can be shot, in her bed, by police in a no-knock raid, with no charges filed in her death, it is clearly an example of a justice system with major flaws. I am aware that this is an understatement!  At this moment, you may feel dismayed or angry, but we know you have the resolve to respond to this denial of justice in a professional manner. We Say Her Name.
  • While social workers have varying opinions on the way toward criminal justice reform, we do clearly see, as a profession, that our current carceral state cannot be sustained if we expect our country to stand for justice.
  • As a profession, we remain committed to policies that promote justice in the health care arena, including access to health insurance and health care, a focus on the social determinants of health, and commitments to racial and environmental justice.
  • Social Work education will continue to teach many of the key principles attacked in the executive order.  Indeed, the order makes it clear that academic discussion of these principles is more relevant now than ever.
  • The time is now for individual and professional action to support voting rights.
  • Values supporting nonviolent social change and the peaceful transition of political power are fundamental to social work.

It is often hard to engage with so much news, so much of it requiring analysis and response. Many of us feel overwhelmed or powerless at times. Remember that we are social workers, and we have the ability to find powerful ways forward in the toughest of systems and the toughest of times. Our flexibility, problem solving focus and commitment to social justice, orient us to action. Pick something to engage with and take action!  All our efforts are required, and all our efforts contribute to progress. And, of course, without fail, VOTE your conscience, your professional values and your core beliefs.


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






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