Message from Dean Anderson: Processing George Floyd Tragedy

Dear School of Social Work Community Members,

As protests boil over in cities across the country and in our own community following the tragic death of George Floyd, I know that many of us at the School of Social Work are deeply saddened by this inexplicable loss and angered about the actions of the Minneapolis police officers that led to his death. It is more disturbing that it so closely follows the senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. These events serve as more visible reminders of the trauma and mistreatment experienced on an ongoing basis by African American men and women, as well as other non-dominant group members, and immigrant populations, especially in poor communities.

Demands for justice to be imposed on those responsible for these tragic deaths are needed, as is a renewed focus on more effective police and community interactions across our country. It is also meaningful to reflect together on these and so many other events to collectively help us process our reactions and feelings.

All of these responses are valuable, but we also need to be more diligent in reminding ourselves that they are not enough. It is too easy to fall into the predictable cycle of outrage at a precipitating event, followed by short-term grief processing, and then a return to “normal” until a new tragedy arouses us again.

As social workers, we have to do more than to simply follow this pattern. Our social justice driven mission is dedicated to empowering and assisting the most vulnerable groups in society. Our philosophy demands that we stand with, advocate for, and listen to the dispossessed. The capacity and willingness to listen are particularly important – as we need to engage and listen closely to community members to gain the best understanding we can of their perspectives on issues and possible solutions. It is only then that we can bring our expertise to bear in making positive responses to violence, structural racism, and the many other problems we face.

This latest violence comes as we continue a historic struggle with a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people across the world, with people of color and the poor again being disproportionately affected. These unprecedented circumstances have fundamentally changed our work, and seriously disrupted the in-person connections that are at the heart of our education and practice. But we have learned a lot about interacting remotely, and just as we have continued to move forward in our work and educational delivery, we can do so in collectively addressing issues associated with the violence facing vulnerable community members.

As a beginning, we will be reaching out to invite you to participate in a virtual town hall meeting to discuss these issues – all are welcome to attend and share your thoughts and ideas, or simply to listen. I also am meeting with our leadership team to strategize how we can more systematically engage on this and related issues – in our educational offerings and community engagement activities as well as in other ways. I encourage our community — students, faculty and staff members, alumni, and community partners — to share ideas on actions we should take now and in the future.

It is so important that, in a time of so many negative and divisive forces, we engage as strong and positive partners with those we are committed to serving. I thank you in advance for the contributions I know you will make.

Steve Anderson, Dean