Account Giving of Anti-Racism Work at SSW


Anti-Racism quilt

This quilt commemorates an interactive art installation that occurred in the summer of 2001 at the Smith College School for Social Work. Based on an invitation to respond to this event, participants expressed their sentiments on cotton strips, now woven into the quilt, representing a range of voices. The Class of 2002, the Anti-Racism Task Force and the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute cooperated to complete the quilt project.

In 1995, the School for Social Work faculty made a formal commitment to becoming an anti-racism organization. We made this pledge to make explicit our responsibility to continuously learn about and disrupt systems of privilege, inequality and oppression that maintain white supremacy and reward, punish and silence because of socially assigned differences. In the intervening years we have experienced progress toward our goal to continuously strive toward greater anti-racism and have experienced serious setbacks.

The summer of 2018 marked the second consecutive summer that several Black adjunct faculty members chose to leave SSW rather than continue to teach their courses. This alarming pattern spurred the faculty to issue a national RFP for external consultation to develop a plan to address structural, process and/or interpersonal issues within SSW that were impeding greater accountability to our anti-racism commitment. Organizational consultants, Ann Zanzig and Jim Gray were chosen to lead this work. In summer 2019 based on Zanzig and Gray’s multi constituent organizational assessment, the faculty voted to re-envision the anti-racism commitment to ensure its relevance and responsiveness to the current environment.

In 2020, following faculty retirements and other departures, Black students, faculty and alumni asserted that continuing to frame our school in terms of an anti-racism commitment can be experienced by Black faculty/students/alumni and other marginalized members of our community as ‘an empty promise’ when we have not addressed the ways in which our systems and processes result in harm experienced by Black identified instructors, advisers and students despite our commitment to anti-racism. In response to these demands the faculty announced a pause on the School’s statement of commitment to anti-racism to acknowledge the experiences of the Black faculty and students and faculty and students of color and to signal our intent as an institution to continue working towards greater anti-racism in our policies and practices to earn the right to publicize such a commitment. SSW adopted five core principles, developed by a multi constituent groups of students, resident and adjunct faculty, to guide the School’s programs and operations.