As we look ahead to 2015, the themes of race and justice will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of the American psyche; certainly they will continue to permeate the daily work of social workers across the nation, while serving to shape the motivations of those charged with molding U.S. social policy moving forward.
At BC Social Work, we marked the beginning of a new year, and a new semester, with an event designed to address these themes head-on. The 2015 Diversity Conference was devoted specifically to an exploration of the intersections of diversity and social work practice, and to a better understanding of the people and communities we are privileged to serve.
Keynote speaker John H. Jackson, the President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education and a former member of President Obama’s Education Policy Transition Work Group, engaged the topic by calling for a “fair and substantive opportunity to learn” for all, regardless of socioeconomic background. This is the “lifeline to address many of the social problems that exist in our country today.”
Jackson explained that policies are what lead to difference, not biology, and that to truly effect change, we are charged as leaders in our field to mold policies to more justly serve diverse communities of Americans.
“There’s clear biological evidence that regardless of race or ethnicity we’re 99.6 percent the same,” he said. “There are more genes to explain variance in eye color than racial or ethnic difference. To the degree that we’re 99.6 percent the same, any variance that we see identifiable by race, ethnicity, or gender, is not caused by the racial, ethnic, or gender differences, but the social policies and practices that cause this difference.
“Our challenge… is to identify those social policies and social practices which lead to outcomes that are identifiable by race, ethnicity, or gender and remove them… Programs are progress but policy is power. If we want to change the culture, we must institutionalize policies to change the trajectory.”
Jackson went on to call for the edification of a cadre of supports designed so that all children can have the opportunity to be successful in school. Jackson advocated for movement towards a supports-based system and away from a system obsessed by standards. “Standards without the supports necessary to achieve those standards mean absolutely nothing,” he said.
Jackson also explained that a punitive system (like the ones currently in place in most educational systems that exist today) does not serve our nation’s students. Instead, it blames them. Often, they’re blamed for merely being raised in an underprivileged reality. “We need to figure out to create an ecosystem for all to be able to thrive and succeed,” he said.
Of course, creating such an ecosystem of supports will be no easy task. But this is the work that many social work leaders are called to do.
“Who best to inform the community, elected officials and others, as to what those supports are, and how to deliver those supports, than those in the schools of social work across the country. This is your charge… You have the thought leadership necessary to help recreate a system of support.”
We encourage you to watch all of Jackson’s compelling speech on the BC Social Work YouTube Channel.
Professors Ruth McRoy and Paul Kline, and Christine Cole, Vice President and Executive Director of the Crime and Justice Institute, were keynote respondents to Jackson’s remarks. Two distinguished alumni awards were also presented during the morning’s events, to Colleen Fitzgerald, MSW ’11, and James A. Martin, MSW ’70. Learn more about each of these remarkable individuals on the BCSSW website.