Columbia School of Social Work Launches Social Work Action Lab for Social Justice

June 30 @ 3:02 pm
By Communications Office

Born in response to COVID-19, the Action Lab now includes an Action for Black Lives campaign addressing police violence and anti-Black racism.

On Monday, June 29, 2020, the Columbia School of Social Work launched the Social Work Action Lab for Social Justice, a student-led initiative with the mission of advancing social action on the most pressing social problems of our time.

Springing from an initiative called COVID-19 Action, which offered resources and trainings to help teachers, families, and social workers respond to the coronavirus, the new Action Lab encompasses a campaign entitled Action for Black Lives (ABL). Notably the Lab will continue and expand its original work of matching volunteers to agencies working on these issues.

“To my mind, the Action Lab is the perfect embodiment of Columbia Social Work’s commitment to social justice, and its demonstrated ability to bring theory into practice,” says Dean Melissa Begg. “I’m incredibly proud of the way our students, staff, and faculty have come together to respond to the enormous challenges and injustices all around us. They have provided key resources and widely viewed trainings for social workers addressing the consequences of COVID, and have initiated a critically important new initiative to combat anti-Black racism. These efforts are predicated on the notion that a more just society is within reach; but to achieve it, we first need to imagine it. The Action Lab will bring together the hands, hearts, and minds of those who can conceive of and build a better future.”

Led by second-year MSW students Natosha Dobbins and Caitlin Yee and center coordinator Serafina Ye Jin Ha, with support from two faculty directors, Associate Professor of Social Work and Sociology and Associate Dean Desmond Upton Patton and Professor of Social Work Susan Witte, the Action Lab will partner with various institutions inside and outside Columbia that share its commitment to social action—initially on building a set of actions for its ABL campaign.

As protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing began, student leader Yee saw the critical connections between the COVID initiative and the need to demand justice for Black lives. As her co-leader, Dobbins, explains: “The mission of Action for Black Lives is to bring together social workers and communities in action to build a just and equitable society where Black people can thrive free of oppression, fear, and violence.”

Faculty advisor Witte adds: “I hope that our work on ABL causes us to examine how the social work profession and we ourselves as social workers may be complicit in the existing system as gatekeepers and to bring new ways of teaching and learning to bear that will fundamentally change social work back to a more ‘cause-based’ versus ‘case-based’ profession.”

In support of the ABL campaign, the Lab has already begun collaborating with other organizations on campus such as the School’s Student Union, Policy Caucus, and Social Work Votes organization, as well as the Black and Latinx Student Caucus from the Mailman School of Public Health.

“We look forward to working closely with graduate and undergraduate schools at Columbia and with local partners to create a community of volunteers and organizations committed to social justice at the highest level,” says faculty advisor Patton, noting that the Action Lab’s website now includes a Collaborative Action Hub.

“We encourage faculty members, students, administrators, community partners, and local Harlem neighbors to visit the hub to exchange ideas and grow them into action,” he says.


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