By Zoe Day
Social Welfare faculty, students and alumni joined forces over the summer to craft an Action Plan to Address Anti-Blackness and Racism in response to political turmoil across the country following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black Americans.
“This summer has been extremely challenging given the global pandemic, continual murders of Black folks and the looming economic crisis. Through these circumstances, Black students at Luskin pushed to ensure that our department would begin to transform and enact sustainable and lasting changes to its curriculum, culture and more,” said Victoria Copeland MSW ’19, who is now pursuing her Ph.D.
Copeland was part of the team that worked with Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams and faculty members Latoya Small and Gerry Laviña to draft a set of action items addressing racial disparities within the department and across social welfare education. The faculty voted unanimously to endorse the effort in June, and the plan was finalized in July. In October, the action plan was the focus of a virtual event drawing about 120 students, alumni, faculty and friends of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.
“For many years, Black faculty and students have impressed upon us as a community to confront racism and anti-Blackness in our program and in the social work profession. Despite these calls, we have not risen to the challenge,” Abrams said.
“We have a ways to go to meet our goals, but we are most certainly at a threshold of change,” she said. “Our plan is concrete and attainable, and the involvement of students, faculty, alumni and staff will be critical to achieving our short- and long-term goals in all areas of the plan.”
Those goals include increasing the visibility, recruitment and funding of Black students and ensuring that the curriculum embraces Black scholars and thought.
Small credited Social Welfare’s students with sparking the call for change. “This is only the beginning of the journey that involves people throughout our department,” she said.
The team, including members of the Luskin Black Student Caucus, highlighted the need to educate students in anti-racist social work practices to reaffirm the department’s commitment to addressing racial disparities and anti-Blackness.
“I am appreciative of the department’s willingness to listen and actively implement the Social Welfare Action Plan,” MSW student Jameelah Howard said. “It has truly been a meaningful and powerful experience working with the administration on addressing anti-Blackness and racism.”
Doctoral student Dominique Mikell called the team’s efforts over the summer “a challenging but essential process to ensure our department can move toward dismantling racist and anti-Black practice within our own school and ultimately within social work.”
“The plan is really the start of a much longer process to ensure that our department adequately prepares its students to confront white supremacy and anti-Blackness in all institutions they interact with, including Luskin,” Mikell explained. “Despite this work being emotionally and mentally taxing, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in it to make our department and the field of social work more just.”
The working group that collaborated on the plan also included MSW student Nana Sarkodee-Adoo, Ph.D. student Jason Plummer and alumni Nicole Vazquez MSW/MPP ’09 and Evin Capel MSW ’17.
Copeland said she is grateful to her peers and colleagues who spent hours over the summer, often meeting numerous times a week, to hammer out the action plan and “demand and ensure that we would be heard.”
With the plan now in place, “I imagine a program that not only accepts and retains more Black students and faculty but uplifts and empowers them as well,” Copeland said. “A Public Affairs school that centers Black thought and Black scholarship is needed, and Luskin can work toward it.” …
“I know that this is only the beginning of a departmental and school-wide transformation that was desperately needed.”