Columbia School of Social Work Initiates Scholarship Program for Graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

October 10 @ 7:53 pm

As part of its ongoing Anti-Racism Action Plan, the Columbia University School of Social Work aims to increase the number of Black students and faculty and, ultimately, to train more social work leaders who look like and understand the communities they serve. This effort includes the initiation a new scholarship program for incoming Social Work students who received their undergraduate degrees from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The scholarship is named for Winona Cargile Alexander, a Howard University graduate who in 1915 became the first HBCU graduate to enroll in the School of Social Work.

Located primarily in the South, the 107 historically black colleges and universities of the United States are institutions founded and accredited prior to 1964 with the main mission of educating Black Americans. Prominent Americans who graduated from HBCUs include Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard University), Wilma Rudoph (Tennessee State University), Rev. Jesse Jackson (North Carolina A&T State University), and Spike Lee (Morehouse College).

The Winona Cargile Alexander Scholarship at CCSW is designed to provide more alumni of HBCUs with access to a Columbia School of Social Work degree, which is the only social work Master’s degree conferred by an Ivy League institution. All applicants to the School who are HBCU alumni are now considered for the scholarship, which is primarily need-based. The first recipients of the award are Gabrielle Francis and Kyra Roberts, 2022 graduates of Oakwood University and Clark Atlanta University respectively.

Scholarship awardee Gabrielle Francis received a BS in Child Development and Family Studies from Oakwood University in May of 2022. She is a dual degree student, studying Clinical Social Work at Columbia concurrently with General and Special Elementary Education at Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

“Growing up as an Afro-Caribbean, I have made it my goal to be the person that I needed when I was younger,” Francis says. Her career plan is to combine elementary school teaching with individual psychotherapy in the context of a free community center.

Kyra Roberts, who is also studying Clinical Social Work, received her bachelor’s in Social Work in May of this year from Clark Atlanta University. She graduated at the top of her program and hopes to become a clinical social worker to raise awareness of mental health issues.

“I hope to be an advocate for change, to encourage and support people in their journey of help, and to reduce barriers that contribute to health disparities in order to improve health equity,” says Roberts.

Francis and Roberts are two of many important new change-makers at CCSW. In addition to the Winona Cargile Alexander Scholarship, the School has recently hired a number of diverse new faculty members in their commitment to increased racial diversity among full-time faculty. These represent only two prongs of a formal University-wide effort to increase racial equity on campus, largely prompted by both student demands and national news events such as the death of George Floyd in 2020.