The Fordham Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) joins the country in collective shock and grief over the wave of violence of the past week: the lives of two more African American men senselessly cut short at the hands of law enforcement, Mr. Philando Castile in Minneapolis and Mr. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge; and fueled by rage and fear, the horrific killings in Dallas of five police officers in the line of duty – Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens. In recognition of all of these men, our support and prayers are with their families, friends and loved ones.
At GSS the core of our mission is to advance social justice and human rights for all people. Within the walls of our own institution we have worked hard to ensure that our own policies and practices manifest the values of anti-racism, anti-oppression and the promotion of equity. We take seriously our responsibility to engage our students, faculty, administrators and the larger community in understanding the factors that foster racism and intolerance and, most importantly, the need to end these in all forms. But we must do more.
In 2015 young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers. A study on the use of deadly force by police reveals that African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths despite making up only 2% of the total US population. This is five times higher than for white men of the same age (The Guardian, The Counted, 2015).
In 2016 the evidence is all too clear that racism, both individually and institutionally, is threatening the very stability of our communities and our country, racism that is fed and maintained through social, economic and political disparities. Social work is a profession founded on a commitment to addressing both the inequities that individuals face and the structures that give power to some at the expense of others. Today more than ever our profession must recommit itself to efforts that advance, not just tolerance and nonviolence, but a true acceptance of difference and diversity. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
Individuals, families and communities cannot thrive where oppression is also permitted to thrive. True justice and wellbeing will be available for all U.S. citizens only when oppression and marginalization is no longer tolerated. To this end, I believe social workers have a unique and important role to play in helping to ensure that our country’s social, political and economic resources are used in service of a just and equitable society for all.
This year, the Graduate School of Social Service commemorates 100 years of excellence in social work education. In honor of this legacy, I challenge all of our GSS faculty, students, staff and alumni to develop initiatives directed at addressing the entrenched societal inequities that have contributed so significantly to our country’s current state of violence and unrest. As social workers committed to social justice I believe we have a duty and a mandate to do so. Most importantly together I am confident we can make a difference.
I hope you will join me in this work.
Debra M. McPhee, PhD