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Students, faculty tour national history museums to explore the impact of race and culture on society and social work

More than 30 MSW students and faculty members recently returned from a daylong trip to Washington, D.C., where the group toured the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Alycia Blackwell Pittman, adjunct clinical instructor, organized the Oct. 29 trip, with hopes of helping participants “better understand the historical contexts of race and culture and its impact on current social work practice.” Pittman was joined by faculty members Travis Albritton, who helped facilitate the trip, Tonya VanDeinse, and Tauchiana Williams, along with students from each of their respective classes. Diversity Committee chair Wanda Reives and students from the committee also attended the event.

For many, the trip was a first to one or both museums. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the Smithsonian’s newest museum and the only one “devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.” The museum, which opened in September 2016, houses nearly 40,000 artifacts on five floors, including Nat Turner’s Bible and a shawl worn by Harriett Tubman.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened in April 1993, was designed “to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.” The museum’s permanent exhibition, which spans three floors, presents the full history of the Holocaust through historical documents, artifacts, photographs, film footage, historical and personal photographs, oral and video histories, and more.

“Students had the opportunity to explore the myriad of personal accounts that tell the stories of these historical plights and processed how these experiences have impacted and framed societal and cultural beliefs,” Blackwell Pittman said.

A few days following the trip, Blackwell Pittman, Albritton and Reives led a group discussion to help students process thoughts, feelings, and reactions to systemic oppression, social injustice, and racial inequities as told through the history of the museums. “This dialogue created a safe space for students to learn from each other and continue ongoing and more in-depth discussions about complex issues related to racial and social injustices,” Blackwell Pittman said. Students will be offered more opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings from the trip, she added.