To our UNC School of Social Work Community,
We are overwhelmed with emotions right now. We are horrified by the persistent acts of racial violence and white supremacy, now fully visible to the world through smartphone videos and social media, which persons of color have experienced firsthand for centuries. We grieve for the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many other persons of color whose names are now written into the violent legacy of our nation. We seethe with anger because justice has still not arrived swiftly (or at all). We are inspired by the peaceful protests taking place across our nation. And exhaustion fills the hearts and minds of persons of color every day as each faces indignities, threats, and aggressions that white people can never begin to imagine. Change is long overdue. It must happen now. And we, as social workers, must actively engage at all levels. No one gets an excused absence — all hands on deck.
Social justice is our cornerstone as social workers and people of conscience. We must be leaders and focus our efforts on combating all aspects of individual and structural racism in our nation and our world. Through our words and our actions, we must uphold the basic truth that Black Lives Matter. I am sorry that we have failed to acknowledge this truth forcefully throughout our history. But I am standing today to remind all of us that until Black Lives Matter throughout our nation, we cannot truly fulfill the mission of our profession.
As dean, I also recognize that we must face the challenge of righting these wrongs by starting “at home” — within our School and our University — because we have not fought structural racism internally with the vigor that our professional ethics require and our humanity demands.
With a deep sense of shame, I believe that our School has fallen short in realizing its commitment to racial justice. We can do better, we must do better, and we will do better, right now and at every moment as we move forward.
I thank our professors and students of color for reminding our School community of just how much more we have to do. They have issued a rallying cry. I am responding with a promise: I will work with our faculty and staff, with our students, with our alumni, and with our community partners to address the problems that we are identifying.
Beginning today, our School is reinvigorating its efforts to identify and address legacy systems within the School that created and continue to maintain patterns of oppression that have blocked people of color from giving voice and having access to resources and opportunities of all kinds. As I see it, we cannot advise others about what to do until we get our own house in order, so that is my first and most important goal. Our collective pride must come from our ability to look at our School with clear eyes and reshape it in equitable ways.
I ask that you join me in full partnership as we stand together in opposition to all forms of racism and address structural racism in our School and beyond, through both our words and actions.
Gary L. Bowen, Dean