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Black Lives Matter (BLM) Town Hall Summary and Next Steps

July 14, 2020

Dear CSULB School of Social Work Community:

The School of Social scheduled three Black Lives Matter (BLM) town halls that were set up in direct response to the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. As a social work community, we understand our need to be responsive to matters such as these. The facilitation of these town hall discussions is an example of that response and the start of a much-needed dialogue within our professional community. These town halls took place during the last week of June. Attendance and participation were strong at all three meetings with 54 attendees on Wednesday, June 24th, 82 attendees on Thursday, June 25th, and 75 attendees on Saturday, June 27th.

Now that we have completed these town halls we want to provide feedback to our Social Work Community as expeditiously as possible.  Attendees expressed powerful feelings and many ideas on how we as a community can move forward in addressing racial inequities in our University, our School, our profession, the Long Beach Community, and beyond. While of course these comments and feelings represent only those who attended and shared during the town hall discussions, we look forward to continuing these conversations with the entire social work community.

Facilitators began the town halls by asking for input regarding how people were feeling, what were some emotions they had been experiencing in the wake of the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the subsequent protests around police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here are the major themes/feelings expressed:  

  • Anger, overwhelmed, hypervigilance, fear, disgust, sadness, shock, helpless, ashamed, guilty, afraid to be hopeful
  •  a number of participants expressed feeling a roller coaster of emotions, and many others spoke of wanting to understand more about their own privilege and how they contribute to racism and white supremacy on a daily basis.
  • Multiple participants expressed physical symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, and tension in their head and their neck.
  • Empowered, hopeful, optimistic that inequities are being addressed and hopeful that the BLM movement and protests are not just a trend but will continue to create real change; committed to working across groups for change, thankful to have a community for support that is powerful and connected.

The town hall groups were then asked what role the community of social work plays in the BLM movement, and how social work has been complicit in supporting white supremacy. Specific attention was paid to CSULB and the CSULB School of Social Work. Areas for change were woven throughout.

The general categories identified from the participants’ comments for this question were:

  • Faculty/Campus Climate
  • Curriculum

Faculty/Campus Climate:  

  • Lack of representation of People of Color (POC) in leadership at the University and School level
  • Need to be willing to hear students’ true feelings regarding issues at hand
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable
  • The public discussion of issues is very affirming.
  • White participants need to accept that they benefit from privilege and commit to combating it.
  • Some students of color stated that they feel immense pain and feel unable to show it at school.
  • Discussions about racism need to be led by everyone, everywhere, in all classes by all instructors
  • Need for more Black students
  • Field Instructors in the agencies need education about racism and how to discuss and address it
  • We all need to admit that social work is itself an oppressive system and is part of the problem
  • Faculty need to be more transparent and more authentic
  • Some students expressed anger at various barriers they encountered while in the program which they felt arose from racial inequity
  • There were some references to getting rid of police on campus and the need to respond more quickly to incidents that involve violence and hate crimes towards POC
  • Some felt that school policies do not take into consideration the economic inequality and the need to work, as it impacts students of color disproportionally.
  • Others expressed instances of discrimination by faculty/administration that they did not report because they did not have faith that action would be taken.

Curriculum:

  • Many comments about the need for more discussion of racism/white supremacy across all aspects of the curriculum including but not limited to, including Critical Race Theory (CRT) in all courses.
  • Seems that the only material used written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) is supplemental, these should be included as required readings.
  • More CRT, less human development and Freud/Erickson – “out of date white male theorists”. 
  • Need to look critically at all aspects of the program to see how it enforces white supremacy and then change it. For example, teach about Black Panthers as pioneers of community resource development, not a radical hate group.

Where do we go from here? 

The School of Social Work regularly reviews its strategic plan and utilizes it as a roadmap for change and growth. Students and other constituents are surveyed as part of the planning process. Over the past two years, faculty have been working on the 2020-2023 Strategic Plan (PDF) and have identified some specific goals that address a number of the concerns identified in the town halls. A brief discussion of relevant points of the previous 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, as well as goals of the new plan are addressed below:

2015-2020: Established School ad hoc Diversity Committee that developed and delivered multiple faculty training sessions and encouraged discussion and self-exploration of race and privilege and Critical Race Theory (CRT).

2020-2023:

  1. New vision statement reflects student-centeredness, commitment to all forms of diversity, community partnerships, and social justice.
  2. Enhance curriculum: resolve redundancy, identify and address gaps, currency and emerging trends
  3. Provide additional training and supports for Field Instructors and Field Liaisons
  4. Establish a Community Service Task Force and a Community Advisory Board
  5. Foster a spirit of community within the School: be a model of a diverse and respectful community of students, faculty, and staff. Foster a community of belonging where all voices are heard.
  6. Cultivate an environment that embraces differences and encourages accountability: the  Diversity Committee will become a permanent standing committee with elected members including students; advance awareness and pedagogical sensitivity related to racism, equity and diversity; integrate all aspects of diversity strategies at multiple levels including leadership, faculty and student recruitment, course content and student activities.
  7. As part of the School’s strategic plan, since the 2019 spring semester, faculty have been receiving training on and working to incorporate Critical Race Theory into all aspects of our curriculum. We have been training in collaboration with the Director of the Department of Social Work at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and all sequence committees have been examining all course syllabi. While there are limitations to how quickly major changes can be made due to university and accreditation policies, procedures and regulations, the School’s commitment to integrating CRT will be evident in courses this fall.
  8. In spring, 2020 prior to the COVID 19 shutdown, the School of Social Work purchased and distributed to all faculty, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. Many have read or are reading the book. The School has developed our first accountability group with seven (7) white faculty.  The group is led by, Dr. Susan Rice, Professor Emerita. The members of the group have committed to meeting 4-5 times over the summer to discuss White Fragility, with particular attention to understanding their own privilege and challenging their complicity.  More accountability groups will start in the fall.
  9. We are looking into how to better communicate with students regarding the student organizations in our School and how to inform them about what faculty are doing in these areas as well. Associated Students of Social Work (ASSW), which all BASW and MSW students are members of, designates a student representative to the School’s monthly faculty meetings. We have learned through the town halls that information has not been shared with the student body as a whole as intended.
  10. These are small but concrete ways that we are continuing to address racism and white supremacy in our school, society, and the Long Beach community. This summary is by no means all-inclusive; we thought it was vital to communicate with you quickly following the BLM town halls. The BLM committee is continuing to meet to develop and implement additional strategies and we welcome your input and involvement.

Sincerely,

The CSULB School of Social Work Black Lives Matter Committee