Leading scholar on race addresses master’s of social work students

The master of social work (MSW) program in the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) culminated with hosting Larry Davis, a leading scholar and activist on race and social justice at the University Downtown Center on Wednesday, May 11.

Davis, dean of social work at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Why Are They Angry With Us? Essays on Race, addressed graduating students on their role in challenging racial tension as soon to be newly minted social workers.

Davis said television, Twitter and other forms of media have helped intensify the national argument on race, class, and the legacy of slavery in the United States. He also said the modern American landscape is igniting conversations and debate.

“Why is all this happening now? Two things are simultaneously occurring: increasing ethnic diversity and increasing economic inequality,” Davis said.

According to Davis, America is on the trajectory to having no majority ethnic group, which means cultural competency is more crucial than ever.

Davis told the emerging social workers: “You are the best positioned individuals to solve these racial injustices. In short, social workers have more boots on the ground than anyone else.”

And, the social work profession is the most ethnically and economically diverse professional group in the country. According to Davis, American society dehumanizes the groups that have faced the most underrepresentation and mistreatment historically.

“To the extent we exploit populations, we must hate them for it,” Davis said.

All of the MSW students preparing to graduate next week have one final task: to propose a dynamic solution for a complex case.

“We must prepare our students to be more comfortable to talk about race and class.  We must move beyond the taboo discussion of celebrating diversity and start conversations that challenge racial disparities,” Davis said.

“It’s the first time the MSW program has had students work together in groups to solve a social work case as their capstone project,” said Brian Flynn, director of admissions and student services in the Social Work Department and chairperson of the MSW Capstone Committee.

Flynn said the collaborative capstone was designed to mirror the work graduates must be prepared for in their professions.

“This cohort will definitely be the experimental group. I believe working together and presenting their capstone projects will be a good opportunity for students and faculty to share different ideas,” Flynn said.

According to Flynn, all of the groups are assigned the same case, but he anticipates students will approach the situation from a variety of vantage points.

“We’re expecting groups to all handle the case differently and propose unique solutions,” Flynn said.

Davis urged the students of all backgrounds to understand their positionality within the context of race as they prepare to embark on new careers: “You have to remember – we are only as good as the causes we support and the values we uphold.”

The talk was made possible through funding from the Binghamton University Division of Advancement and the Department of Social Work.

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