New Full-Time Faculty Members at Columbia School of Social Work Focus on Well-Being of Black and Latinx Americans

October 4 @ 10:26 pm

Following national news events such as the death of George Floyd and in response to several years of student demands, Dean Melissa Begg recently announced that the Columbia School of Social Work has made significant progress toward its goal of achieving greater racial diversity among its full-time faculty. The hiring effort took place as part of a University-wide anti-racism effort and represents only one important step in the fight for racial equity on campus.

The School has made six new hires since the University’s anti-racism effort became a formalized plan in fall 2021. Now, of the current 39 full-time faculty members, 56% are people of color, including 28% who identify as Black or Latinx. This contrasts with one year ago, when of the 37 faculty, 46% identified as people of color and 16% as Black or Latinx.

“The goal of this cluster hire is to focus on disrupting systems that maintain anti-Black and anti-Latinx racism. We cannot wait to see the synergies that develop among these remarkable scholars,” emphasized Dean Begg.

The Provost’s Initiative to Support Race and Racism Scholarship at Columbia University played a crucial role in this hiring process, making it partly possible to bring on the six distinguished and diverse new faculty members. The Initiative offers financial support for hiring a cluster of scholars each year who are doing innovative work in the field of race and racism, and is specifically designed to support the University’s anti-racism efforts by advancing the recruitment of outstanding tenured and tenure-track faculty members engaged in race and racism scholarship.

“Our goal is to support hires who will build excellence in race and racism scholarship generally,” states the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement. “Not only by their own work, but as a catalyst for work across the institution. In particular, we seek exceptional scholars who can be instrumental in the creation and enhancement of cross-disciplinary and cross-School collaborations.” While the School of Social Work has enjoyed particular success in benefiting from the program, the initiative welcomes applications from all academic fields at the University.

In addition to the School’s participation in the Provost’s initiative, Dean Begg has also hosted a series of lectures on race, racism, and inequality, providing an opportunity for the CCSW community to meet and learn from some of the scholars who were ultimately hired. “The new faculty members bring an extraordinary breadth of expertise and experience to their research and teaching, and greatly enrich our cluster hire around the well-being of Black and Latinx individuals, families, and communities,” explained Dean Begg.

Among the new faculty members, most of whom joined the School on July 1, is Dr. Ana Abraído-Lanza, who serves as Tenured Professor and Vice Dean. Abraído-Lanza is a leading scholar in the study of Latinx health and behavioral science, especially how acculturation affects health, and her work exploring Latinx longevity has been cited widely for the past decade. She completed her PhD in Social-Personality Psychology with a Health Concentration at the CUNY Graduate School in 1994 and has held faculty appointments at the University of Houston, the Mailman School of Public Health, and the NYU School of Global Public Health, where she also served as Vice Dean.

Assistant Professor Nkemka Anyiwo comes to the School after completing a three-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Division of Human Development and Quantitative Methods at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. The primary focus of her work is how media and other sociocultural factors promote the resilience and empowerment of Black youth, shaping their racial identities and their sociopolitical development. She completed both her Master’s degree in Social Work and her PhD in Social Work and Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan.

Associate Professor Rob Eschmann is an expert on race, education, and technology. He joined the School in 2021 from the faculty at Boston University, where he was an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and served as assistant director of research at the Center for Antiracist Research, founded and directed by Ibram X. Kendi. His forthcoming book, When the Hood Comes Off: Racism and Resistance in the Digital Age, will be published by the University of California Press. He received his master’s degree and his PhD in Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.

Assistant Professor Natasha Johnson is a personality psychologist and social work scholar whose research focuses on resilience in Black youth—their social identities, their awareness of racism, and how they respond to racial discrimination. She is a Black woman from Detroit, a first-generation college graduate, and a Spelman alumna. She earned her MSW and joint PhD in Social Work and Psychology (2020) at the University of Michigan, having received predoctoral fellowships from both the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Professor Brenda Jones Harden is a scientist-practitioner who uses research to improve the quality and effectiveness of child and family services to inform child and family policy. Her research focuses on the developmental and mental health needs of young children who have experienced early adversity. She received her master’s degree in Social Work from New York University in 1980 and her PhD in Developmental Clinical Psychology from Yale University in 1996. Prior to joining the School, she held a named professorship (the Alison Richman Professor for Children and Families) at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, where she was also the director of the Prevention and Early Adversity Research Laboratory in the College of Education.

Dr. Charles Lea received his PhD from the Luskin School of Public Affairs (Department of Social Welfare) at the University of California, Los Angeles, his MSW from the University of Michigan, and a BA in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. His work aims to promote healing, resilience, and healthy development among young Black men, as well as dismantle the racialized structures that create and sustain their risk for health-compromising behaviors, arrest, incarceration, and recidivism.

Additionally, the School welcomed another scholar last year who has been a longstanding presence among Columbia University faculty. Dr. Robert Fullilove has joined the School in an interdisciplinary appointment between CSSW and the Mailman School of Public Health, where he is a longtime faculty member and associate dean for Community and Minority Affairs. Having devoted much of his career to issues concerning the health of marginalized groups, he is now collaborating with Social Work faculty in critical areas such as racial justice, criminal justice reform, and health equity. He received his BA from Colgate University, MS from Syracuse University, and EdD from Teachers College.

The School looks forward to the future with its many exemplary new full-time faculty members while recognizing that this is just one of many steps necessary to achieve racial equity at the University. Programs such as the Provost’s Initiative to Support Race and Racism Scholarship at Columbia University represent a commitment to a sustained anti-racism effort.