An Update from the Dean: Our Continued Work

My dear community,

The days are finally starting to lengthen, bringing glimmers of much-needed light in a time marked by global suffering and unrest. Here at the Smith College School for Social Work while staying engaged with world events we seek to do our part in healing by looking inward, continuing in our quest to build an anti-racist institution based on adherence to our five Core Principles and preparing our students to go out and support meaningful change in the world. This is the latest biannual update SSW committed to offer to keep the community abreast of SSW’s racial justice work.

In the past six months, we continued refining our Classroom-based Accountability Process while launching a set of trainings that brought faculty and staff together as one learning community. SSW has partnered in this work with the Michigan-based nonprofit Overcoming Racism, which assists organizations in increasing cultural competence and dismantling workplace-related systems of oppression.

Overcoming Racism hosted four workshops for faculty and staff. First, two foundational trainings provided a common vocabulary and understanding of the concepts of race and anti-racism. The foundational workshops continued building an inclusive, anti-racist organization through scrutiny of existing systems and practices within the School. They featured two full days of incredible learning. Staff and faculty felt energized, positive and connected in the process of learning in community; they expressed excitement to deepen interpersonal connections while engaging in healing work.

The second two trainings, by staff and faculty request, are a deep dive into understanding anti-Blackness. As a School, we need to enrich our understanding of anti-Blackness to make the project of dismantling it more central to all our efforts. The workshops offer collective vocabularies and the identification of action items.

Strategic Vision
Overcoming Racism is also assisting our Strategic Visioning Group, a multi-stakeholder group of students, staff and faculty, with drafting a strategic plan for the School through the lens of our five Core Principles. We meet twice a month to work through the process of identifying School priorities in operations, curriculum, staffing and student support. These new efforts build on past collective work, including an evaluation of the 2019 strategic plan conducted at a faculty and staff retreat in the fall. This ensures that current efforts remain informed by community voices and momentum. Our goal is to roll out the plan in June.

The multi-constituent Evaluation Group, led by Professor Rory Crath, is working toward understanding the progress of our racial justice work. Their members produced a report of recommendations that outlined SSW’s last decade of efforts toward aligning with our Five Core Principles. This report is now with the Strategic Visioning Group. The Evaluation Group also created a framework to “animate” the principles and to help guide their work, which included radical Black abolitionist work, Indigenous feminist decolonial praxis and principles of transformative justice. The group created a narrative timeline of all the known evaluative reports/processes and subsequent actions/reactions that have been conducted since 2014, the year I started at SSW. They wrote:

The timeline reveals several important findings: M.S.W. student activism and in particular, the labor of Council for Students of Color members, has been a central driver of change in our system. This has been historically true as well. The timeline also reveals the abundance of institutional initiatives and policy changes that have occurred since 2014 in response to students’ evaluative critiques and challenges. Finally, the timeline suggests an earnestness, energy and devotion of resources that are being mobilized in the name of building out a more accountable academic institution in line with its five Core Principles.

They also found that ‘throughout many of SSW’s systems and their departmental components, there are few formalized policies or practices that could be easily located,’ and that many of the workgroups we have assembled over these years, ‘historically and contemporarily lack sustained and/or concrete overarching direction or objectives to steer the work. There has been an ‘absence of long and medium term goals and objectives (no consistency in goals or metrics over time to evaluate needs and set priorities).’

These findings ring true to my ears. For at least seven of the past nine years, SSW has been through a powerful change process, much of it directed by the most urgent issues identified by students and faculty. It is important and timely that we are now in a strategic planning process to set goals and objectives for the next three years and determine sustainable infrastructure to support this work. The Evaluation Group will continue to collect data on campus annually.

Moving Forward
The Anti-Racism Planning Group – led by Professor JaLisa Williams and Janae Peters, M.S.W. ’15, adjunct faculty and coordinator of the Sotomayor Collective – continues to refine our Classroom-Based Accountability Process, finding ways to bring our Community Agreement to life, two important areas of work that support our creating of an accountable and cohesive community. To deepen their immersion in this work, the entire team read adrianne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, which helped inspire the ARPG to think about change as a constant, inevitable process that can be impacted and shaped through attunement and joyful resistance. With that inspiration, the ARPG continues developing generative, creative events and rituals, both large and small, aimed at building and healing from the ground up.

Through institutional and community efforts, we continue mindfully forward in our work to forge a School that stands against racism and for equity and justice guided by our Core Principles. Though years of deliberate efforts are starting to bear fruits in increased community cohesiveness and emerging policies and practices, we recognize that we are still in the early days of this ongoing project. We are committed to continuing the work toward a community that feels safe and welcoming to all.

Over the next months, I will write and speak with our on-campus community about drawing upon our Community Agreement to navigate these differences. Every one of our students and faculty belongs on this campus. Our Agreement requires us to make space for each other, to be generous and compassionate, especially when we do not hold the same opinions. The bottom line is that we are a learning community. We do not need to shy away from hard conversations, but we are here to learn and support each other in our learning. I am confident that we can do it!


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