Moving Toward Racial Justice

Black and white image - man with hands on head.

A message from Dean Nancy J. Smyth

Turning Despair into Action: A Conversation with Community Leaders

Published June 2, 2020

The horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department comes on the heels of so many deaths of Black people and other People of Color by law enforcement, as well as through other racist violence. These acts need to be named for what they areviolations of globally accepted human rights, such as the right to life, human dignity, and freedom from violence and discrimination. They are rooted in systems of structural racism and unequal access to social and economic rights and protections that disproportionately affects the health, safety, and economic security of communities of color.

Right now, I want to say the following to all of our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) University at Buffalo School of Social Work (UBSSW) Community members:

I know that feelings of empathy, intellectual understanding, and statements of support are not enough, and that, in fact, they can feel empty and self-serving because they make the speaker feel better while doing nothing to address systemic racism. So instead, speaking as your colleague, as a social worker, and fellow citizen I am committing personal resources–time, money, and energy–to ending anti-Black racism, as well as all other forms of racism. I will show up and do my part. And professionally, I recommit to naming racism where I see it, and using my role appropriately to work for concrete action steps for change in our organizations, communities, and larger social systems.

Finally, many in our UBSSW Community (faculty, staff, students, alumni, community partners) have been working on these issues, and other human rights issues, for some time. And yet there’s much more work to be done to create a racially just society, not just “out there,” but here at home, that is, in our own organizations, higher education, and the social work profession. Violence is not a solution I support, and yet as great leaders (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy) have observed, violence will erupt when people feel that peaceful solutions have failed. So, this is a time to come together to connect on these issues as a community to consider how we can do more to bring about justice and other universal human rights through peaceful change. [1]

Dean Nancy J. Smyth, PhD, LCSW
University at Buffalo
School of Social Work

[1] I shared a version of this statement [via email] with faculty and staff earlier this week as a personal statement so I could check in with others before speaking as the dean of the University at Buffalo School of Social Work. I did this to act in congruence with the philosophy of trauma-informed leadership, to ensure that I was not taking advantage the privilege of being in a leadership role and presuming that others were comfortable with my statement. So, if you have seen a slightly different version of this statement, that’s why that occurred.