The School of Social Work’s Black Student Caucus, with support of the School’s Diversity Committee, sponsored a film screening and facilitated discussion of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar nominated documentary, “13th,” on Monday, Jan. 23. The film explores how institutionalized racism has influenced the U.S. criminal justice system, beginning with slavery to today’s era of mass incarceration. The title refers to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery but included an exception for those who have been deemed criminals by the state. That loophole, according to the film, has led to the incarceration of 2.3 million people in the United States, 40 percent of whom are black men.
More than 60 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the event, which also featured panelists, Irving Joyner, a professor who practices, teaches and writes in the area of criminal law and procedure, voting rights and civil rights at N.C. Central University School of Law; April Dawson, who teaches and writes in the area of constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court at N.C. Central; and Charity Watkins, a Ph.D. candidate at the UNC School of Social Work whose research focuses on the academic resilience of low-income African American children and the parenting practices that work to support their academic success. Watkins’ research also explores the resilience of African American families who have been affected by the inequities and injustices of the American criminal justice system.
The discussion, which included questions from the audience, focused on how black and brown men continue to be criminalized and oppressed, the need for further conversations about how such a legacy threads into every system of society and how social workers can better understand and be prepared to address these issues of race and social justice.