School of Social Work

The USM School of Social Work Stands Against Racism

The USM School of Social Work Stands Against Racism

Witnessing the murder of George Floyd by the hands of police has shaken us to our core. While the killing of Black people by the State, or racist policies that result in various forms of eventual death is not new, the recent death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor has elucidated a fight against the virulent and deadly disease of racism. The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow are still a societal poison and must be ended. Now.

The social work profession is value based, with social justice underpinning our mission and work. The gravity of this moment calls for action. Our profession is grounded in an activist community-based tradition led by Jane Addams, Ida B Wells, Whitney Young, and Barbara Milkulski, to name a few. As protesters fill the streets, we lean on the roots of activism in profession to guide us in working toward racial justice.

Black Lives Matter and multiracial protests in the United States and across the globe are pushing governments at all levels, as well as the hearts and minds of the public to enact sweeping structural change. The activism in our home town of Portland, Maine is impressive and powerful. There is a momentum and potency in the movement for racial justice not seen since the 1960’s. What does this mean for us?  How do we as a school, as social workers, and individuals contribute and help to sustain this vitality to work toward systemic change? And what does that involve?

We have communicated with many people about this question over the past weeks, students, faculty, our administration and others, and one thing is clear: we all want to make a difference and take part in addressing racial justice in a substantive way.

We want to stop racism—and we know that this work is not easy.

A few things come to mind right away:

  1. As a school we are recommitting to an activist pedagogy that aligns with the tradition and values of social work’s roots. Our curriculum already has many of the ingredients in place; however, we are dedicated to enacting a more intentional, seamless integration of service learning and project-based opportunities to be advocates, activists, and pioneers of anti-racist policies and interventions. We look forward to working with students, the university as a whole, and community partners in collective, action-oriented responses and strategies. In addition, we have made a long-term commitment to evaluate our curriculum to ensure that we are using anti-racist pedagogy practices to train culturally competent social work professionals. In 2019, we conducted a preliminary curriculum review through a syllabi evaluation. As a result, we are committed to the continuation and the expansion of our curriculum to support diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  2. As individuals we can start with ourselves to be anti-racist. That can include examination, reading, and standing up when we witness overt and covert racism. All forms of racism are corrosive for entire societies, not just for people of color. We need to examine our privilege and understand the subtle ways that biases leak through, even when we don’t intend harm. While it is easy to identify and condemn blatant racist acts and hatred directed at people of color, it is much more difficult to look within ourselves and see the ways we participate in perpetuating racism. We need to take ownership of this, no matter how “enlightened” we believe we are. It is a life-long commitment to do this work. It takes honesty and a willingness to bear and process difficult feelings. And perhaps most important to remember, it is not the job of Black people to teach white people what they need to do, that must be done without shifting the burden of this work from ourselves. 
  3. In our professional lives, we can challenge the systems we work in to engage in practices and develop policies that are racially just. While institutional training initiatives are beneficial, they are not sufficient to do this work—a paradigm shift is needed. Organizations need to examine the composition of staffing and leadership and make a commitment to employing a diverse workforce. This means changing recruitment and hiring strategies and practices, along with supporting and empowering people of color within the systems they are employed.

We can learn from people of diverse populations. We can be open to the diversity of experiences and perspectives. We can have honest conversations with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). We can be willing to hear feedback from BIPOC, even if it is uncomfortable.  We can understand that if we are white, we have baseline advantages that non-white people do not possess. Those advantages can serve as blinders to the existence of the oppressive forces that are in play in the daily lives of BIPOC.

Make no mistake: we are not providing a pat remedy here, but rather ideas about starting this journey toward racial justice. This just scratches the surface and we have layers to uncover and work through.

We are currently holding weekly meetings in the SSW to give space for conversations about race and racial justice. Anyone in our community can attend at any time, coming every week or dropping in when it is possible, and we hope you will want to share your thoughts and feelings.  We are not sure where these meetings will take us, but we know that if we don’t dedicate a space for open discussion, action for change cannot effectively happen. We have had two excellent meetings so far--more to come!  The meetings are held on zoom due to the COVID situation, so pay attention to your listserv e-mail for the zoom links.

We have also started a google doc for all to add resources: ideas, videos, artwork, poems, articles, books, links to trainings and websites or whatever you want to contribute that serves the goal of promoting racial justice. We would like this to be a group creation.

Racial Justice: Resources

Please follow this link to a google doc to both access and share materials to the SSW Community:
We hope you will join us for the meetings or share materials on our google page.


Wishing you all strength in connection,

The SSW Administrative Team

Jeanette Andonian, PhD, LCSW, Director, School of Social Work

Dorothea Ivey, PhD, MSW Program Coordinator

Paula Gerstenblatt, PhD, BSW Program Coordinator

Stacia Fitch, LCSW, Manager of Field Education