As “I” Becomes “We”

Melissa Begg
April 11, 2020

Dear CSSW Community,

I hope you are remaining healthy and safe throughout the current crisis. There’s no doubt this has been a very tough week, with COVID taking a truly horrific toll on the CSSW community. Moving forward, we must do all we can to celebrate the life and legacy of MSW student Susan Chuang, and honor the outstanding example she set for us as a social worker who lived her values and truly “walked the talk” of social justice. She set a standard we can all look up to.

When I wrote last week, I referred to a literary passage that cites a profound change in mindset – moving literally from “I” to “we” in our daily lives. Given this week’s events, I feel this change even more keenly. Despite the mounting challenges all around us, there are shining examples of people stepping forward, supporting the most vulnerable, and making enormous personal sacrifices for the greater good. They include a host of courageous first responders and hospital staffers, along with a wide swath of individuals doing their part to make sure that food and essential supplies reach our localities. A group of our own CSSW faculty has come together as the “COVID-19 Action Committee” under the leadership of Dr. Desmond Patton to collect and share volunteer opportunities to aid our communities – more on that in the coming days. Let’s look to these exemplars of generosity, to individuals continually living as “we” instead of “I” for the betterment of all. They represent our true inspiration and hope for the future.

As always, I will share with you any updates from the central University and our School. We expect to have answers for students this week on questions around tuition and fees, and I’m grateful to have an opportunity to meet again with our Student Union representatives to get their input and feedback on students’ experiences to date. I also want to invite all of you also to a virtual panel this Friday, April 17th, focusing on stigma and racism during epidemics. Sadly, we’ve seen increases in acts of racism and even outright violence against Asian-identified members of our communities, in New York and across the country. This is intolerable. The Friday panel is one element of our response to this troubling issue, enabling us to learn from experts who’ve studied these trends, discuss ways to reduce threats, and express our unmitigated support for our colleagues who’ve suffered in this way.

The social and economic damage from COVID is mounting. The demand for social work in the near- and long-term will be immense, and we must be ready to study the problems, develop the evidence base to address them, and prepare to enter the field to enact positive social change. That can be hard to contemplate now, when we may be feeling low. However, let’s galvanize ourselves to find opportunities to help wherever we look. This pandemic has laid bare the deficiencies of our social safety net. In an article in the NY Times citing data from the Center onPoverty and Social Policy, CSSW professor Jane Waldfogel notes that “The crisis has made the need for benefits much more visible.” In addition, emerging data are revealing startling differences in COVID death rates by race, with African-Americans experiencing far greater disease mortality. A NY Times article on this topic quotes Professor Courtney Cogburn on this significant health disparity, who observes, “There are patterns at this intersection of race and socioeconomic status that make it very clear this is just not a story about poverty.” As members of the social work community, we are compelled to address these injustices. How can we use our current predicament to press for critical policy changes?

As we endure the next phase of the pandemic, it’s important to underscore the importance of our reliance on one another. On reflecting, I marvel at how much I gain from my interactions with all of you. Even while physically distant, it’s a potent reminder of the great strength we derive from our community, our commitment, and our shared values.

With warmest regards and sights set on a brighter, more just future,