Focus on Diversity

Students of color dinner 2018
Students of color dinner 2018

Cultural humility, anti-oppressive practice, and social justice are values central to the profession of social work and our School. We strive to promote diversity in race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, income, marital status, political beliefs, religion, immigration, and mental and physical ability. We seek to enhance human well-being and promote human rights as well as social and economic justice to achieve an equitable, healthy, and productive society. To do so requires understanding and dismantling personal biases (unconscious and conscious) and systemic injustices within our society and School.

The work required to meet the ethical standards of the social work profession and to strive for social justice, both within the School and the communities in which students work, happens in ways large and small, day-in and day-out and is not the responsibility of any one group at the School. It’s the responsibility of all members of our community. 

Over the past few years, students, faculty, and staff in the School have undertaken a number of signature efforts to improve diversity and equity efforts with special attention to the curriculum, recruitment, and retention of a diverse student body, and training provided to faculty, staff, and students.

The School of Social Work prioritizes diversity and inclusion work in all areas. 

Tamara Grigsby

Tamara Grigsby

The Committee on Diversity

This committee works with the rest of the School to develop and maintain an environment that will attract, nurture, and support diversity within the School, with particular attention to diversity and inclusion among students.The committee includes faculty, staff, and student representatives.  

The committee organizes Cultural Dialogs to facilitate conversations between faculty, students, and staff about diversity, power, oppression, and privilege. In addition, the committee coordinates a number of initiatives focused on student recruitment and student life, such as:

  • A visit day--organized for BSW & MSW applicants of color who have been accepted into their program. Applicants have the opportunity to meet with faculty, staff, and current students, as well as tour the School. A luncheon is held with only the applicants and current students of color in attendance. This event provides a safe space for applicants to talk confidentially with current students of color about the climate at the University and within the School, and ask any questions they may have.
  • In the evening of visit day, the committee hosts the Annual Spring Dinner for current and newly-accepted students of color in our Social Welfare, BSW, MSW, and PhD programs. The purpose of this event is to welcome potential incoming students and their families, acknowledge current students, and celebrate graduating students.
  • We have made recruitment of students of color a priority for the School. For example, we sent advisors to recruitment events for African American, Asian, and Latino youth at Madison College, a two-year school whose graduates often apply to UW-Madison with the hopes of completing their four-year degree and possibly their graduate education. 
  • In response to students of color requesting an opportunity to network with each other and build community, the School started a Social Workers of Color Student Coalition, which provides an opportunity to build community and work on issues of interest to student social workers of color.

Funding and Scholarships

Many of the 34 Scholarships offered to students in the School provide financial assistance to historically underrepresented student groups. In addition, we are often able to offer Advanced Opportunity Fellowships for underrepresented graduate students in partnership with the Graduate School and College of Letters & Science.

The School started an endowed fund called the Tamara Grigsby Memorial Fund for Diversity and Inclusion, which supports efforts in the school to improve diversity and inclusion. Tamara was one of our MSW graduates and a legislator and advocate for social justice. Above our building entranceway is a quote by Tamara Grigsby that says: I just ask that you will join me in changing the world. We have a human, a moral, and a professional responsibility to do no less. There is also a plaque there in Tamara’s honor.

Tamara Grigsby’s parents also endowed a Tamara Grigsby Scholarship for Advocacy of Equity, Social Justice, and Positive Social Change.

Teaching, Learning, Research

The School has placed an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and justice in the curriculum and pedagogy, and much of the research conducted by our faculty focuses on issues related to diversity, equity, and disparities in health, education, housing, income, and more. In addition:

Two faculty recently conducted a pilot independent study with six students called the Anti-Racism Project, which will continue next year.

Every year we hold the Dorothy Pearson Lecture in Equity and Social Justice, which features a nationally-recognized speaker for a lecture on social justice and equity for students, faculty, and the public.

We recently began holding a student symposium where students present their year-long Change Agent Projects to community partners, faculty, agency supervisors, and other students, highlighting the work students contribute to making a difference in their field placements and community. Many of these projects focus on more inclusive practices and addressing disparities within client systems.

In 2018, we will have our first School of Social Work Community Read. The choice of the book, So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo was voted on by students, staff, and faculty and focuses on the racial climate in America and grapples honestly about the many issues of social injustice. The book will be integrated within activities throughout the year.

Representation in Leadership

The School has increased the diversity of its Board of Visitors and Professional Consultative Committee (PCC) members. Both of these boards play advisory roles within the School. The Board of Visitors provides expertise to assist the School with alumni relations and development and the PCC provides consultation to the overall curriculum with particular emphasis on the field program. It's critical that both boards include a diversity of voices in order to provide the best possible advice and input from a range of perspectives. 


We hold an annual Social Workers Confronting Racial Injustice Conference, which is attended by over 500 community members, students, faculty, and staff (with a long waiting list). The conference challenges social workers to engage in racial and social justice action.  

In 2017 and 2018 we supported a large event, organized by an MSW student, called Upstage Stigma, which aimed to address the stigma related to mental health disability.


Trainings are held for faculty and focus on topics such as diversity, inclusion, racial injustice, and having difficult conversations in the classroom. The purpose of these trainings is to provide opportunities for faculty to further their knowledge in these topic areas and continually work to improve their skills in the delivery of the content and the facilitation of in-class discussions.

We also hold trainings for our Agency Supervisors focusing on cultural humility and strengthening supervisory relationships with students.

There is More To Do

Creating a community where every person feels welcome, valued, and well-equipped to work to overcome historical injustices as part of their own social work professional endeavors requires a never-ending commitment by our entire community. Please join us with your ideas and talents.

The School of Social Work and UW-Madison strongly encourage applications from persons of color; persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; and persons with disabilities.