Social and racial justice

This statement was collectively written, reviewed and ratified by the VCU School of Social Work School Assembly on Jan. 25, 2021.

The VCU School of Social Work stands against all acts of oppression, while acknowledging the particular role of anti-Black racism and white dominance within our communities. In order for us to live out this mission fully, we believe that it is necessary to acknowledge that our School and profession are interwoven with larger, historically rooted ideologies and structures of oppression, including white dominance.

Our School was founded over a century ago, at a time in which Black and Indigenous people of color were excluded from our profession. If our School aims to dismantle practices of oppression, it is critically necessary that we confront the history of anti-Black racism within social work and to acknowledge that our own School has perpetuated, reinforced and benefitted from white dominance over its 100-year history.

This problematic legacy has shown up in a variety of ways that require unpacking. A viewer of our website recently brought to our attention, for example, that our history page proudly displayed a photo taken around the time the School was founded in which a group of social workers posed in front of a monument to Hunter Holmes McGuire, a prominent surgeon in the Confederate army.

In a far more recent example (February 2020), a School display created for Black History Month was defaced in a way that characterized Black history as "not American." Together, these types of incidents can accumulate to convey messages of disrespect and devaluation to our Black colleagues and community members. These are just a couple of the public-facing examples and do not include the many examples that have happened in our classrooms, field placements and decision-making tables over the School’s history.

Our Black, Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, staff and alumni of color have carried the additional weight of calling our attention to our unexamined anti-Blackness, transphobia and queerphobia many times in the past. For example, students have raised concerns about having never had an opportunity to take courses with BIPOC faculty, and over the years, the School has lost faculty and staff who left because they felt unvalued and/or affected by racism.

In May 2019, a group of students, faculty and alumni presented the School with a list of Social Justice Solidarity Demands calling for us to acknowledge and correct our failure to live up to our commitments to intersectional social justice. In spring and summer 2020, we held a series of listening sessions to encourage students to share their experiences with anti-Black racism in particular, in order that we might learn from them and begin a process of reckoning.

At the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, student leaders of the School of Social Work student organizations convened a teach-in event to engage faculty and students in the School in discussions about ways to effectively and sensitively address anti-Black racism in classroom discussions, particularly in relation to the recurrent national incidents of police brutality against Black people. The School is particularly grateful to these members of our community who have disproportionately carried the weight of our systemic awareness and growth.

It is important to acknowledge that deep systemic change defies quick and easy solutions and requires us all to commit to a continuous process of learning, unlearning, reflection, undoing and targeted action. While acknowledging both our historical and present struggles, we commit to moving forward.

We resolve to center our efforts to examine and dismantle anti-Black racism, standing firmly to make the following commitments to our students and to one another to:

  • Engage in truth-telling and reflection regarding our country’s, profession’s and School’s history, including the ways that it has reinforced and benefitted from ideologies such as white dominance.
  • Continue to hold one another accountable for systemic racism and structural oppression in ourselves, one another, our School, University and communities.
  • Prioritize anti-racism work, from an intersectional perspective, in scrutinizing and transforming our curriculum, policies, organizational practices and budget.
  • Resist efforts to be silenced or to communicate in ways that minimize the core values of our profession.
  • Work toward a School of Social Work that holds all of its members and affiliates to an expectation of commitment to and investment in continuing to learn and grow in ways that support the dismantling of oppressive ideologies and systems.
  • Hold our University accountable to resist the development and promotion of policies and actions that align with white dominance.
  • Create an educational and work environment that decenters whiteness in our everyday practices and promotes dignity and respect for all, working to ensure that the burden and labor of change does not fall solely on BIPOC faculty, staff and students.

Racial justice initiatives

The School of Social Work created a working group, the Radical Alliance for Anti-Racism, Change and Equity (RAACE), with a group of six student fellows in 2020 to begin formulating a plan of action to live up to our commitment. Learn more about the task force and fellows, along with our Curriculum Work Group and Student Climate Work Group.

Related supports for students, alumni and community

Groups open for participation include the Black Lives Matter Student-Faculty-Alumni Collective, the Association of Black Social Workers at VCU and the Queer and Trans Social Workers at VCU. Learn more about these groups and organizations.

Statements on commitment to racial equity and social justice

University diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

Call me by my name

VCU recognizes that individuals have the right to use names other than their legal name, to identify with the gender they know themselves to be and to utilize the pronouns that best fit them.

IExcel courses

VCU Inclusive Excellence develops and implements innovative educational programs for faculty, staff and students related to emergent trends in diversity and inclusion.

Campus climate advisories

The Division for Inclusive Excellence has launched its diversity and inclusion campus ratings system that provides diversity, inclusion and engagement scores for each major unit on campus.