Submitted to the AFRO by a Member of the University of Maryland School of Social Work

We are members of the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) community who are concerned about ongoing gender- and race-based discrimination at the school. We seek reform and repair of a decades-long problem within the school’s culture and curriculum, as the refusal of SSW administrators to acknowledge and remedy this discrimination undermines both the mission of the school and our professional code. As graduates of the SSW, we value the institution and want it to be better. We want the school to center anti-racism and engage in critical self-reflection—a practice that’s integral to our work.

The SSW is located in Baltimore City, with a population that is 63 percent Black. The city’s neighborhoods are divided by historical and ongoing economic and racial segregation. The school also serves a student body that is 30 percent Black, 10 percent Latinx, and 3 percent Asian and Asian-American, yet there are currently no Black or Asian tenured faculty and only one tenured Latinx professor. How did this come to be? When we asked this and other questions to SSW faculty, staff, and alumni, many described an oppressive culture that pervades the school and its history. We learned that a Black faculty member was refused entrance to an administrative building last year because of their skin color. One of these writers was berated and threatened by an administrator for raising issues of racism on campus, part of a pattern of behavior experienced and witnessed by these authors and shared with them in confidence by others. Another student wrote to a number of high-level administrators about experiences of race-based discrimination and profiling and was offered an apology but no course of action, further inquiry, or outreach.

Like any large employer, the University of Maryland must adhere to the standards, laws, and practices included in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its later amendments. This law prohibits employer-based discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. By this law, it’s also illegal for employers to retaliate against an employee who complains or files a charge of discrimination or participates in a related investigation or lawsuit. The law requires: a clear procedure for reporting Title VII-related complaints (separate from Title IX); a policy compliance statement and additional training for staff on issues of employment discrimination; a process for complaints that is accountable to mandates on University response and investigation; and disciplinary procedures for employees and supervisors who are out of compliance. In addition, the University must document how the institution is following all other employment laws enforced by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

We have learned that multiple complaints of discrimination have been filed with the University Office of Accountability and Compliance, which have resulted in no action. The University doesn’t have a clearly delineated and publicized Title VII process – therefore, we believe it is in violation of this law.

The institution wants to display the diversity of people of color and women because such visible diversity is socially acceptable but will not allow for the change in perspective that comes with membership in a truly diverse community. The cognitive dissonance and emotional pain associated with being allowed into a space but not being permitted to bring one’s unique perspectives often results in people of color leaving the institution. As students, we built on existing work to challenge the SSW to address past harms and embrace an anti-racist curriculum. Like students before us, when we organized for reforms, we were met with opposition. School administrators were unaware or unwilling to accept the experiences of students, staff, and faculty of color, continued to deny funding for antiracist trainings, and failed to focus resources on preventing institutionalized oppression.

This article was published in the 2019 winter edition of The Maryland Social Worker.

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