2021 Year in Review Racial Justice Symposium - University of Houston
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2021 Year in Review | Racial Justice Symposium

In the wake of a fervent #BlackLivesMatter movement and persistent racial disparities in key social welfare institutions, four deans came together to spearhead a first-ever virtual event series to discuss social work, white supremacy, and racial justice. The brainchild of Deans Laura Abrams (UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs), Sandra Edmonds Crewe (Howard University School of Social Work), Alan Dettlaff (University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work), and James Herbert Williams (Arizona State University School of Social Work) became a public forum exploring social work’s complex history of upholding White supremacy alongside a goal to achieve racial justice. These paradoxes had come to the forefront of discussion in academic and practice circles. 
Seizing the unique moment, the deans pooled their resources to host Social Work, White Supremacy, and Racial Justice, a free four-part series exploring how social workers simultaneously practice within racist systems and work to dismantle them. The series presented a unique and, perhaps, unprecedented opportunity to interrogate the profession’s relationship to White supremacy and racial justice also challenged social workers to reimagine an anti-racist future.

Each segment of the four-part series, which has been viewed over 34,000 times to date, was helmed by one of the four deans: 

Social Work’s Historical Legacy of Racism and White Supremacy led by Dean Laura Abrams, traced social workers’ constructions of race, racial ideologies, and beliefs through historical accounts that explore social work’s role in coercion, segregation, and displacement across fields of child welfare, juvenile justice, immigration, education, housing, and others. 

Addressing Racism Within the Social Work Profession: Reflections on Our Past and Present, led by Dean Sandra Edmonds Crewe, provided accounts of how the profession has evolved to begin confronting racism. What have social workers, leaders, and scholars done to challenge the dominant paradigm? From the advent of the National Association of Black Social Workers, to innovations in practice, policy, and social work education, this session will address the numerous leaders and discourses that have challenged racism and moved the profession forward.

Envisioning an Anti-Racist Future: From Practice to Policy led by Dean Alan Dettlaff, turned its attention to the future. If anti-racism is the goal, how will social work get there? What is the future we can imagine, and what is the future of social work in this new society? Part Three examined the emerging movements in social work that are actively working to dismantle racism and White supremacy. Panels explored the use of futures thinking to reimagine our future, abolition of carceral systems as a means of achieving justice, the role, and importance of Black women in the fight for liberation, and social work’s role in the radical movements needed to bring about an anti-racist future. 

Strategies for Achieving Racial Justice in Social Work Education led by Dean James Herbert Williams continued the exploration of our anti-racist future and the role of social work education in helping to achieve this. What is the future of social work education, and what strategies will be needed to achieve racial justice in social work education? 

Presenters also generously shared their presentations (all available on the Racial Justice Symposium website) so that the ideas and knowledge shared would be made available to the social work students and the social work education community. 

The entire Racial Justice Symposium series is currently being edited into a four-part volume with chapters written by the presenters. The book is scheduled for publication in Fall 2022.