Dean’s Spring Lecture Series Spotlights the Scholarship of Race and Racism
Topics addressed thus far include data racialization, educational disparities, and the constraints of life after prison.
This past semester, the Columbia School of Social Work launched the Dean’s Lecture Series on the Scholarship of Race and Racism with the objective of generating new thinking about the barriers to and possibilities of social work serving as a vehicle of racial justice. Open to students, alumni, faculty, staff, and the broader community, each session served to spark ideas for action and a future research and practice agenda for the School.
Addressing the rationale behind the new series, Dean Begg said:
Columbia is proud to host these outstanding scholars as they share their research, which seeks to examine and promote the well-being of Black Americans. I hope this series has provided an opportunity for our community to come together to explore the major nodes and intersections in the complex system of racist structures and policies that result in inequities, with a particular focus on disparities in economic opportunity, educational outcomes, criminal justice, wellness, and health care access.
During the spring semester, three prominent Black scholars shared their exciting work aimed at achieving a more just society. In delivering their remarks, each challenged the audience to think more deeply about steps that need to be taken to promote a program of anti-Black racism, across our institutions and across the nation.
Below are embedded video recordings of the three lectures, which took place between March and April, along with information on the speakers and their topics.
SPEAKER: Dr. Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
TOPIC: “The Importance of Ending Racializing Methodology in Social Work Science”
SUMMARY: A nationally recognized authority on suicidal behavior among Black Americans, Dr. Sean Joe has dedicated his academic life to improving the well-being of Black boys and young men and reimagining the ways in which communities can support their health, academic attainment, employment, developmental opportunity, and transition into adulthood. At his March 29 lecture, Joe addressed the historical foundations of our ideas of “race,” saying that the roots go all the way back to early religious beliefs, which then found an expression in philosophy, natural science, and eugenics, becoming codified into our laws. He also showed how these concepts of race have manifested themselves in the social sciences and social policy of today. In essence, “race” has become synonymous with “subspecies,” he argued, and by using this nonscientific and degrading term, we are preserving systems of white superiority. He concluded his remarks by calling for a moratorium on using the word “race” to describe differences among human beings.
SPEAKER: Dr. Rucker C. Johnson, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
TOPIC: “Does Increased K–12 Funding Improve Student Learning and Narrow Achievement Gaps?”
SUMMARY: Dr. Rucker C. Johnson is an acclaimed labor economist and the author of Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works, which makes the case that school integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s were overwhelmingly successful—arguing in favor of a renewed commitment to integration for the sake of all Americans. At his April 22 lecture, Johnson shared new evidence from California’s Local Control Funding Formula indicating that a policy of infusing lower-income school districts with additional funding can lead to a significant narrowing of average achievement gaps by race/ethnicity and poverty status.
SPEAKER: Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work
NOTE: Dr. Miller also honored us by delivering this year’s commencement address to the Class or 2021, which can be read here.
TOPIC: “Sinnerman”: A Discussion about Rejection and “Carceral Citizenship”
SUMMARY: Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller performed years of ethnographic research following the lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Chicago, Detroit, and New York City, the findings of which are recorded in his new book, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. He dedicated his April 29 lecture to a chapter from that book called “Sinnerman,” which conjures Nina Simone’s 1962 performance of the storied Black spiritual at the Village Gate. Miller said that this song conveys the idea that a person who has transgressed society’s norms has nowhere to turn for solace—a sentiment that matches the one at the heart of his book, which explores the idea that life after incarceration is its own form of prison. In his work as a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and now a sociologist studying mass incarceration—and in his own experience as the son and brother of incarcerated men—Miller has frequently witnessed what happens to individuals who return from prison. They encounter what he calls a “carceral citizenship” of distrust and surveillance, in which relationships with loved ones become a transactional “economy of favors” because friends and family risk punishment for providing housing, transportation, companionship, and support.