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Dean Announces Diversity Initiatives in the School of Social Welfare

Thursday, December 3, 2015

December 2, 2015

Hello Everyone,

I would like to update you on our SSW engagement within the campus dialogue on diversity and race.  Many people attended our KUSSW Forum that was held on Monday November 30th.  I want to thank our facilitators, Drs. Anne Williford, Megan Paceley, and Sydney Spears for their roles in creating a space where those in attendance could voice their concerns, share their experiences, and begin to create plans for addressing these concerns.  I also thank those students, staff, and community members who shared their experiences, many of which are painful and take courage to articulate.

From that Forum and our meetings with a variety of students of color, three conclusions are clear.

  1. These have been very emotional times for the School.  I want everyone to know that I am committed to making this School as good as it can be.  I hear what students are saying about problems that exist in our School relative to race and diversity. I am disappointed that they exist, and I will do my part to address them.
  2.  All of the School’s groups have mobilized and are engaged. Statements have been issued by the BSW Student Group, the MSW Student Group, Ph.D. students, the Center for Mental Illness Research and Innovation, the Faculty Executive Committee, the Dean’s Office, and a number of individuals. Faculty members are working on a statement and I always represent their voices as much as possible. I appreciate all of the work that has gone into crafting these statements.
  3. The listening stage will continue for those who still need to express themselves; however, we have moved into the action stage.  We need to dialogue more within and across groups, but we also all need to act on things that we can do better.  Students, faculty, staff, and other SSW stakeholders need to know that a number of things are happening.
    1. The Dean’s Office response to the student demands posted on November 23rd 2015 is attached.  The Dean’s Office and the Faculty Executive Committee took these demands very seriously and we are, and will, responding to every one of them.
    2. The Faculty Executive Committee has delineated their action steps at our forum to take action in 4 areas:  1) work with administration to intensify our recruitment efforts, 2) review course master syllabi at all levels of the curriculum, 3) develop a process whereby students can have their negative experiences addressed in a safe manner well before needing to file a grievance, and 4) review our mission statement to enhance our official commitment to combating oppression and promoting social justice and equity. As Dean, I fully support these action steps and will assist the faculty in carrying them out.
    3. I have always supported the creation of an Office of Diversity in the School.  This is envisioned as a representative group of faculty, staff, and students who can both provide leadership in handling student concerns (see #3 above) and in promoting and celebrating diversity as a strength. The full scope of this Office of Diversity will be determined. However, as Dean, I commit to a) appointing a Faculty Director, and b) providing that Director with $5,000 to promote the Office activities.  This is the same amount of money that our Research Centers receive, with the hope that this Office of Diversity becomes just as active as any of our research centers. I welcome individuals interested in serving as Faculty Director to contact me.  We will also need representatives from students (B.S.W., M.S.W., and Ph.D.), staff, and faculty to participate. Please contact me if you are interested.
    4. Micro aggression training is being considered for all members of our community, and I will work with faculty, students, and administrative staff to sponsor such training.

There will no doubt be more actions that we can take as conversations continue.  This is a very important dialogue for the School to have, and it will make us a stronger and tighter-knit community in the end.  I urge each person to take personal ownership for change—to identify what you can do to contribute to a better community.  Together, as Jayhawks, we will successfully address this issue.


Paul Smokowski, Ph.D.

Dean and Professor



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