By Matthew Biddle
Published January 12, 2024
Keith A. Alford, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, will be honored by Buffalo Business First for championing diversity and inclusion in the community and reinforcing the school’s inclusive culture.
Selected from about 65 nominations, Alford will receive a Business First IDEA (Inclusion Diversity Equity Awareness) award during a dinner on Feb. 15.
Since joining UB in August 2021, Alford has led the School of Social Work through his strengths-based, collaborative style of leadership. Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) are central to the school’s mission and values. Under Alford’s leadership, the school is now finalizing a strategic plan that integrates DEIA principles across the pillars that will guide its strategic vision for the next five years.
Among other examples of his advocacy for DEIA, Alford is steering the integration of racial trauma into the school’s established trauma-informed and human rights framework. He also is a strong proponent of interprofessional education, which allows social work students to learn from and collaborate with students from other health professions to enhance quality of care and promote greater outcomes for underserved populations.
As part of UB’s historic faculty hiring initiative, Alford is recruiting new colleagues with diverse perspectives and research agendas to join the ranks of the school’s internationally renowned faculty. Last fall, he championed the school’s participation in UB’s VITAL program, which brings outstanding PhD candidates to campus in an effort to increase the number of UB faculty from traditionally underrepresented populations.
Through research, School of Social Work faculty examine how disparities across various systems affect marginalized populations and contribute to the development of programs and policies that make a positive difference. At Alford’s direction, the school is a prominent contributor to the Grand Challenges for Social Work, a national initiative that brings researchers together to address critical challenges like ending homelessness and eliminating racism. In addition, the school’s research centers — including the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (ITTIC) and Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute (IRRI) — continue their vital work in the community.
Perhaps the most visible demonstration of Alford’s inclusive leadership came in the wake of the Tops massacre on May 14, 2022. After this egregious act of racial violence shook Buffalo to its core, Alford sought to help students, faculty, staff and community members engage in meaningful and difficult dialogue. For the one-year anniversary in 2023, he led the coordination of an online seminar focused on Black racial trauma, which provided a safe space for attendees to grieve, share experiences and ask questions.
Alford continues to advocate for DEIA principles, both internally and publicly, including through multiple columns in The Buffalo News and Syracuse.com over the past year.
Before joining UB, Alford served as a professor of social work, director of the School of Social Work, and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Syracuse University, providing executive leadership for the creation and implementation DEIA services, policies and programs across campus. A former child protective services worker, outpatient family therapist and therapeutic foster care supervisor, Alford devoted his social work career to serving and researching the needs of children and families.