A Charge to Schools of Social Work: Be Accountable in the Work of Racial Justice

Although targeted at schools of Social Work in New York, this video entitled “I Am A Social Worker, and I am ACCOUNTABLE”  brings forth the code of ethics and offers an important charge to the leadership in schools of Social Work across the country.

This was very moving to me because the message resonates with challenges I experienced as a student, and is also a strong motivator for why I have chosen to return to institutions of higher education as an instructor.

It is important to assume positive intent, and to believe that we are all doing the very best we can.

It is equally important for the leadership in schools of Social Work to listen intently to what students are sharing, and to ensure that their labor is not met with invalidation, but with responsiveness.

I often mention to students that universities are microcosms of the larger society; that we don’t pass through some magical barrier once we arrive on campus that can protect us from all of the isms that are operating outside of the space, and that all of the elements that exist outside of the educational environment also exist within it and are likely to surface.

Cultural humility defined on 3 levels:

  • Lifelong learning and critical self-reflection
  • Recognizing and challenging power imbalances for respectful partnerships
  • Institutional accountability

Just as MLK spoke “all we say to America, is be true to what you said on paper“, students are speaking on a macro level to say, that if we say that we value racial justice, if we say that we value social and political action, if we say that we value cultural competence and social diversity, if we say, as it does in the preamble of the code that

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”

and that

“..Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living”,

the let us prioritize ensuring that our curriculum reflects that.

Of course we recognize that getting closer to that place is an ongoing challenge, but if the institutional response is defensive to students who are putting the call out there, may they not be too surprised when students respond with “we’re just doing what you taught us to do.”

When leadership is able to recognize the charge as a calling in; as an opportunity to change directions, and see students as a collaborative partners and agents of change and not as problems to be managed, transformational change becomes that much closer to grasp.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW



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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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