Reflecting on our work over the last year

My dear community,

I want to first acknowledge the hurt so many in our community are holding as we grapple with what is occurring in the Middle East. In recognition of the many ways our community is affected,  we have been working with the college to plan a virtual generating justice event for the SSW community. We hope this vigil will acknowledge violence and its repercussions and, in the spirit of our community agreement, we hope to offer support to one another across socio-political lines. I will send more information about this gathering as the details are confirmed.

I am writing to keep our community updated on our efforts in accordance with a commitment we made as an institution this past January to honor and celebrate the legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by providing increased transparency and authenticity in our racial justice work. Twice a year we will report on our goals and progress to our community, offered in acknowledgement of the importance of making Dr. King’s work and values actionable.

In August we completed an exciting and instructive summer term at SSW: after a long incubation and collaborative development process, we debuted our updated campus antiracism initiatives. The Anti-Racism Planning Group (ARPG), Strategic Visioning Group (SVG) and the newly expanded Sotomayor Collective - formerly the Sotomayor Fellowship Program – have led the rollout of comprehensive programming for faculty, staff and students aimed at cultivating a more cohesive community in alignment with our five Core Principles. Though the path remains lengthy, and no community will ever be conflict-free, there is a palpable energetic shift underway on campus, with more attention to bringing ease, support and joy into our days. We are building a critical foundation of trust that is essential as a basis for when difficult conversations arise. Now, as we segue into autumn, we are focused on evaluating and learning from the rollout to continue our community-building efforts going forward.

Prior to the summer term, the ARPG, the tireless multi-constituent group ​​led by Professor JaLisa Williams and Janae Peters, M.S.W. ’15, adjunct faculty and coordinator of the Sotomayor Collective, spent countless hours creating a classroom-based accountability process (CBAP), a protocol to address conflict and ruptures as they occur in the classroom. Its roadmap for faculty involves SSW Professor Peggy O’Neill’s concept of taking a pause during heated discussions and employs Professor Loretta Ross’s notion of “calling in” rather than calling out. Concurrently, the multi-constituent SVG, which I led, drafted a Community Agreement to foster a SSW community that practices accountability to the five Core Principles.

During the summer, when the whole community came together on campus, we focused on rolling out our new processes and agreements to mindfully build a cohesive, welcoming community in a way that included accountability and education, but also collective joy.

To train faculty in the CBAP and community agreements, adjunct faculty arrived on campus a day early for an updated onboarding that included community building and an introduction to the collective vision of the CBAP and community agreements. Then, to support this work, throughout the semester, the ARPG hosted an array of anti-racism offerings and community-building events for faculty, staff and students. These Rituals for Healing and Community Building included opening and closing ceremonies to the summer, weekly self-care offerings, such as sound baths, and mindfulness activities, and a bi-weekly group to Process Ideological Whiteness run by the Sotomayor Collective. The summer also included a comprehensive Juneteenth program with education on challenging anti-Black racism, a community barbecue and a workshop on embodiment and Black liberation delivered by writer and racial justice facilitator Prentis Hemphill. We have learned much about what works best to build an intersectional, accountable, joyous community and are feeling deep gratitude for these new traditions.

This fall, we continued to adjust our future offerings based on all that we have learned this past season. We are eliciting feedback from the community at large on how all these processes worked – we formed a multi-constituent evaluation workgroup headed by Professor Rory Crath to conduct interviews across our community and then develop recommendations around gaps and focus areas we need to address to strengthen our initiatives going forward. If our antiracism work doesn’t change the day-to-day experience and feeling on campus then we haven’t done enough.

We are concurrently bolstering our racial justice efforts with a close effort on recruitment and retention of BIPOC faculty, which both increases the diversity of voices and perspectives on campus and bolsters community by offering a broader array of students deeper opportunities for connection and mentorship. These efforts continue: SSW is currently hiring for a full-time, tenure-track position to be focused on clinical research that addresses the needs of historically marginalized communities with a teaching expertise on social work practice with BIPOC children and adolescents.  

Going forward, the SVG, taking the summer’s learnings into account and adding in the work of a joint faculty and staff retreat this fall, will be developing a three-year strategic plan for the School. The plan will look at next priority areas to address within the School and all initiatives must be aligned with our five Core Principles in ways that are dynamic, alive and fresh. It will also lay out how the key groups crafting SSW’s community-building initiatives – the SVG, the ARPG and the Sotomayor Collective – can best work in concert toward maximum impact.

While I am proud of our accomplishments, I know we must not slow our efforts; this will be a continuous process of learning and change, checking in and remaining accountable to everyone, but especially to the faculty and students with marginalized identities that historically lacked full inclusion in institutions like SSW. We are proud to be doing this work from a position of thoughtfulness and intention rather than the more patchwork response that often characterized prior efforts. And we are excited to continue our work, as these are long-term commitments to building a sustained culture of care and equity in our wonderful community.

All my best,

Marianne RM Yoshioka, M.S.W., MBA, Ph.D., LCSW
Dean | Elizabeth Marting Treuhaft Professor
Smith College School for Social Work