Sent on August 18, 2020:
Dear New and Returning Students:
I’d like to welcome you to Fall Semester 2020 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work!
It goes without saying that this is an academic year like no other. We are in the midst of a global pandemic accompanied by an economic crisis, and a societal reckoning with racial and social injustices such as police brutality, racist behavior and rhetoric toward our community members of Asian descent, toxic forms of “nationalism” and rampant discrimination against religious groups, xenophobia, voter disenfranchisement, health inequities, and a myriad of structural and systemic forms of racism, sexism, heterosexism, discrimination against transgender and nonbinary persons, ableism, and other forms of physical and emotional violence. Students, staff, and faculty are grappling with a high level of anxiety, stress, and fear brought on or intensified by these forces, as well as with a great deal of uncertainty about the future. The Black Lives Matter movement and the efforts of activists and everyday people around the country, as well as our own profession and the students, schools and organizations that underpin it, are working to acknowledge and correct white supremacist foundations, but much hard work remains to be done.
The events of the last several months will hold tremendous historical significance when we look back in 5, 10, or 20 years. As social workers and students of social welfare, there is an opportunity before us to define this moment, making a firmer and more rigorous commitment to justice, and building on the foundations of literally hundreds of years of struggle by those who have been continually oppressed and marginalized, to right the wrongs of our nation. To me, that feels incredibly motivating and even hopeful, because from societal upheaval, reforms and new ideas that make our world better, and more equitable, can emerge. Some of you, particularly students with racialized identities, are very tired, because the need for this work, and the work itself, is not new. For those whose lives have benefited from white privilege, it is important to sit with discomfort and push yourself to recognize the privileges that come with being white, and the massive harms these privileges inflict on those who are not white. Recognizing white privilege and using that privilege to join in partnership with Black and brown communities to dismantle systemic racism is a journey that requires a long-term commitment, and, as social workers, one we must make. Please see our school’s Supporting Black Lives web page for information on activities and events that celebrate, support, and advocate for Black lives.
As we all do our part, I urge us to be gentle with ourselves and with each other, given that we are all additionally dealing with the uncharted (in our lifetimes) realities of a global pandemic and the additional demands, disruptions, hardships and losses that have emerged in its wake. As you each navigate the period of time we are in, ask for help and seek support from family, friends, and those of us working in the School. No one can get through this unprecedented time independently. Also, please be aware of the resources on campus for assistance with mental health needs, which I encourage you to seek out if you feel the need. Students seeking support for and community with students who share specific identities, I also encourage you to explore the university’s Multicultural Student Center, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, the International Student Center, and the McBurney Disability Resource Center, among many other wonderful resources and student support services on campus.
On top of everything else, you have your educational pursuits. As you know, the University has articulated a Smart Restart plan, which includes a combination of in-person and remote classes through November 25th, at which time all courses will be remote. The Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work is part of the College of Letters & Science (L&S), and the Dean of L&S asked all units to offer at least half of their courses in-person (in-person includes courses that are partially in-person and partially remote) before November 26th. We have done our best to be as thoughtful as possible about the Fall curriculum, and staff and faculty have put in an enormous amount of time over the summer to try to make things go as smoothly as possible for students as they start the academic year.
The Smart Restart plan includes many safety protocols such as mandated mask-wearing, required spacing in classrooms, twice per day classroom cleaning, and provision of wipes and hand sanitizer in each classroom. Please see the Smart Restart plan for details on additional components such as free testing and rigorous contact tracing. We will be diligent in following all of the safety protocols that aim to keep us all safe, and we urge you to do the same. It is also important to note that the University may decide at any point to reverse the decision to hold in-person courses this Fall, which would create more changes that need to quickly be implemented. Since your advisors may be a first point of contact for you when questions arise, please keep in mind that they are not making the university decisions, and they are there to help you make the best possible curricular decisions in a less than optimal situation.
I will be checking in with you as the semester unfolds, starting with a student “flash survey” (the link was included in an email message to all students) to gauge how you are doing and what concerns and questions you have, as well as what you are hoping for this year. These surveys are brief, anonymous and voluntary. They will help me and the rest of our School’s leadership team advocate on your behalf as the semester unfolds, as well as help us plan for Spring semester.
There are still details for fall that are being worked out by the University leadership, and we will communicate these details to you as we learn them. For example, we recognize that many of you drive in for your in-person classes and may have a remote class to attend while you are on campus. There is a campus team working to determine how to provide enough workspaces for students in these situations, and we are eager to hear what the options are.
Finally, there are three school developments that I would like to highlight.
- First, our School has a new name: the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work! You can read the background on this name change on our website Thanks to a generous donation, the largest in our School’s history, we are able to significantly increase our scholarships for students, as well as create additional learning opportunities for students that we have not been able to afford in the past.
- Second, over this last year, the School, with input from students, staff, faculty and community stakeholders, drafted a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan. You received a message about it this summer inviting you to comment on the draft. Thank you to those of you who did so – we incorporated comments and noted ideas. Starting this fall, we will engage our various stakeholders to develop an implementation plan to further our ongoing efforts. You will have other opportunities to participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and events this year.
- Third, some of you may know that schools of social work must be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in order to be licensed as a practicing social worker in most states. Every 7 years, our School must undergo what is called “re-affirmation” in order to keep our accredited status. This academic year is a re-affirmation year for us. I can’t underscore enough how much work staff and faculty have put in preparing for re-affirmation over the past 2 years to ensure that it goes smoothly and that our accreditation status remains intact. This process will mostly go on behind the scenes, but I will keep you informed about what is happening with regards to this process, and let you know about any opportunities to participate.
I’ve had the privilege, for the last 20 years, of being a faculty member of this school, and have witnessed first-hand its evolution and growth toward a stronger, better institution. The students who came before you were often the impetus for change, and their efforts are heavily reflected in where we are today. There is more work to do, and I’m looking forward to embracing and doing this work together.
Last but not least—please make arrangements to ensure your VOTE counts on November 3rd! Here is where you can register to receive an absentee ballot as well as learn where your polling place is located if you plan to vote in person: https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/MyVoterInfo
I wish each and every one of you a safe and productive year, full of growth and discovery, and hopefully, many joyful moments, too!