Dear NYU Silver School of Social Work Community:
It has been eight years since the student Racial Diversity Town Hall Coalition (2010) organized to demand change regarding the school’s hostile environment for students of color and deficient social work education due to its lack of attention to racial justice. The Coalition cited the dearth of students and faculty of color within the school; personal, heartfelt narratives of marginalization and aggressions perpetrated by faculty and other students; and the harmful effects of the curriculum’s focus on teaching from and to a white racial perspective. Their Racial Diversity Student Proposal outlined an extensive list of concrete actions that NYU Silver could take to address its own racial injustice.
Thanks to the committed action of these past student leaders,* the school has made some improvements. The overhaul of the Ethnocultural Course into our present Diversity, Racism, Oppression, Privilege (DROP) course was a significant advance. Between 2009 and 2015, the percentage of students and staff of color increased, while percentages of faculty and administrators of color increased modestly (NYU Silver School of Social Work, 2018). The Racial Diversity Student Proposal was adopted into school’s official Strategic Plan (NYU Silver School of Social Work, 2010; Social Justice and Diversity Committee, 2017), and a Social Justice and Diversity Committee (SJDC) of faculty, staff, and students was formed in 2013 to oversee the plan’s implementation. The Social Action Committee (SAC) and Strategy and Tactics of Action Group (STA) were also created.
Despite these improvements, much of the 2010 Student Proposal remains unfulfilled, particularly those components pertaining to faculty training, the makeup of the faculty body, curriculum, and school climate. Year after year, the SJDC has made the same recommendations regarding faculty hiring and training, curriculum, appointment of a full-time Social Justice and Diversity Officer, organizational structure, and communication between administration and students (Social Justice and Diversity Committee, 2017). It is only just this past month that one of these recommendations, the streamlining of SJDC, SAC, and STA functions into the new Social Justice Praxis Committee (SJPC), was approved by the faculty. Meanwhile, the school remains a hostile environment for many students, faculty, and staff of color; many of the experiences voiced by students in 2010 (Toloui et al., 2010) could describe what is happening at this school today nearly word for word.
The school’s actions to address its own racial injustice have not been enough, and have not happened quickly enough. Moreover, an intersectional understanding of oppression informs the need to counteract all forms of social injustice. It is clear that the current infrastructure for implementing change is inadequate, despite the best efforts of certain community members. We believe that the the SJPC restructuring will help, but without greater allocated resources and commitment from the entire school community, the burden for undoing the school’s internal racism and oppression will continue to rest upon a few who are predominantly people of color and other targeted identities.
Therefore, we, as leaders of the Graduate Student Association, Asian Pacific Islander / American Social Work Students for Change, Black Women’s Social Work Coalition, Latinx Social Work Student Organization, and Students of Color Collective call on every member of the NYU Silver community to take action for social justice at our school.
We call on Dean Guterman and the Senior Management Team to state clearly and publicly their vision for racial and social justice at NYU Silver and to demonstrate their will by allocating concrete resources towards implementing proposed changes.
We call on full-time faculty to exercise their decision-making power to establish a racially and socially just curriculum, and for all faculty to turn their classrooms and field settings into anti-racist and anti-oppressive spaces.
We call on all students, alumni, faculty, and staff to organize, to speak out, and to find their spaces of support.
And finally, we call on students to lead the effort to organize and demand change. We have the power to hold the school accountable for its unjust practices.
For our part, we present a list of what we believe are the most important, urgent, and feasible changes needed to improve our school. This list will be submitted to Dean Guterman and the SJPC for consideration. This list is not meant to be final or exhaustive, but a point of reference for further dialogue and action. Between this list, the school’s Diversity Plan, the SJPC recommendations, and additional input from our community, there is no shortage of constructive ideas for advancing racial and social justice within our school.
We invite all NYU Silver community members to sign the online petition as a first action. By signing this position, you acknowledge the continued existence of racism and oppression at Silver and you commit to doing your part toward making the school a more just institution. Our list of Action Steps and Resources for Student Organizing and Advocacy provide suggestions for what to do next.
We end by expressing our gratitude to those students that came before us who pushed the school to change for the better, and to those among the faculty, administration, staff, and alumni who have supported us. We also express hope in the ability of our community to heal and transform itself. We therefore look optimistically to a future time when our students, faculty, staff, and alumni of color are central and integral to our school community and when we can be proud to say that NYU Silver educates its students to practice truly socially just social work.
Student Leaders of the Graduate Student Association, Asian Pacific Islander / American Social Work Students for Change, Black Women’s Social Work Coalition, Latinx Social Work Student Organization, and Students of Color Collective
*We recognize that our accounting of the history of student organizing at NYU Silver is incomplete, and that important work of other former students is unknown to us, unfortunately. We hope that this letter can be one way to preserve and acknowledge this history and the people we are indebted to and whose work we are attempting to build upon.
See the list of endorsements here.