July 13, 2021

Message to Admitted & Incoming Students from Dean Melissa Begg

Dear Incoming CSSW Students,

Welcome to Columbia! Whether you will study with us on our Residential or Online Campus, we are delighted that you will be joining us this academic year for one of the most important experiences of your life – as you begin your graduate studies in social work. First, please allow me to congratulate you on your admission to the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), the oldest social work program and one of the most highly-ranked programs in the nation. Second, let me emphasize that this is one of the most competitive classes we have ever had the privilege to admit – so without a doubt, you belong here. We cannot wait to see all the different perspectives, experiences, and ideas you will bring to our community.

You are joining a community with a vibrant educational and research portfolio. Our researchers are pursuing some of the thorniest questions we face as a society regarding well-being and access to opportunity. A quick scan of our website demonstrates the wide array of relevant, ethical, and timely research and practice efforts underway, including promoting racial justice, advancing mental health and wellness, increasing access to care, supporting healthy children and families, exploring technology’s impact on our lives, reducing poverty, re-envisioning the criminal justice system, and enhancing educational opportunities, among many other exciting initiatives.

Let me also say at the start that we know you have probably endured one of the most difficult years of your lifetime. With the multiple pandemics of COVID-19, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian hate, and anti-Semitism (among many other ongoing forms of oppression and bias), many of you have faced significant challenges. Sadly, many of these challenges will very likely continue into the coming year. It is the mission of social work to promote social justice and racial justice in all we do, and to ensure equal access to opportunity for all in our society – especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. Given the damage wrought by the pandemics, there is much work ahead of us. You have the power to make change and we offer an education designed to make the most of your dedication and innate talents.

While much of the work ahead of us is outward-facing, we recognize that we have important work to do as an institution as well. Last year, we renewed our efforts to become a more anti-racist institution. Like nearly every institution in our society, we recognize that our School has ongoing issues to confront. However, we are committed to tackling our shortcomings, addressing concerns as they arise, accepting responsibility where appropriate, and making changes where needed – so that we emerge as a stronger, more equitable School. This is not the work of a day or a week or even a year, but an ongoing duty and a continuing work-in-progress. We look forward to partnering with you in that effort.

I want to take a moment to talk about your educational experiences in the coming academic year. Last year, classes and activities were primarily remote in nature. That will change this year, especially for those in our Residential Campus. Over the past months, University and School leaders have dedicated many hundreds of hours to evaluating the impact of COVID-19 across the world and in New York City, reviewing evolving public health recommendations, and discussing a wide range of options for CSSW. After considerable thought and discussion, we are preparing to offer most of our Residential Campus classes for MSW and PhD students in-person this year, while our successful Online Campus will continue to deliver an excellent remote education. We have learned that many methods of engagement are open to us, and will utilize a mix of these (remote, hybrid, and in-person) over the next 12 months.

It is abundantly clear that the ways in which we live and work have changed dramatically over the past year and a half. We’ve all learned to pursue our professional and personal lives with the help of technology, and in all likelihood, we will continue to do so – taking advantage of new modalities wherever helpful. Having said that, we look forward to greater opportunities for in-person engagement in the coming year as another means to support each other and build community. Please know that you will be able to engage with others in many different formats as you meet with faculty members and classmates, expand your professional networks, seek advice from your instructors, receive guidance from your advisors and practicum supervisors, and obtain support from our dedicated staff in student services. We are all eager to meet you!

At the time of posting this message, public health conditions in New York City remain very positive, and provide ample support for the decision to augment on-the-ground activities after Labor Day. However, please note that we will vigilantly monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed as the fall and spring terms progress. Columbia University is fortunate to be home to a cadre of outstanding public health professionals who lend their tremendous expertise to our decision-making. Given the safety protocols they have put in place, the University has identified only a tiny fraction (less than one-half of one percent) of our community as testing positive for COVID-19 since we started random sample testing protocols in the spring of 2020. (Full details can be found on this webpage.) With the vaccine mandate in place, we are able to return to campus with confidence that our environment is as safe as it can be for learning and working together.

Despite the myriad changes all around us, some things remain the same. CSSW is one of the best social work schools in the country. Our breadth of concentrations and specializations ensures that you are able to focus on the aspects of social work and social welfare that are most meaningful to you. Our faculty and staff are ready to offer you an excellent education this year. We are committed to providing you with a learning experience that is personal, engaging, and effective, enabling you to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to promote positive change throughout your career.

We know you are coming to social work to fight for a better world. There is no doubt that society needs you, and the demand for your contributions is urgent. We are grateful for your talent, your creativity, and your dedication to social justice. We cannot wait to start working with you towards those goals.

With best regards and enduring hope for the future,

Melissa D. Begg
Dean & Professor
Columbia School of Social Work