One Hundred Days In…A Message from the New Dean

December 10, 2019 @ 8:50 pm
By Melissa D. Begg

Dean Begg with alumni who attended the Communities of Color Networking event on September 16. Left to right, back: James Singletary ’10,  Nick Horace Ogutu ’17; front: Yaya Yuan ’17, Marlene Santana ’10, Cat Plazas ’10, Dean Begg, Shanehi Shah ’15, Jewel Mack ’92, Kainen Bell ’17.

Tuesday, December 10th, marks the 100th day since I’ve had the pleasure of joining the wonderful community at the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW). It’s a good time to reflect and take stock. I’d like to share some of my thoughts about what’s been happening and where we are headed.

So far, I’ve had about 50 individual meetings with our outstanding faculty and staff, and have learned so much from my colleagues—about their pride in the school, their thoughts about change, and their hopes for the future. I’ve also met with dozens of the School’s students and alumni—remarkably talented and dedicated people whose accomplishments raise the reputation of CSSW on a daily basis. I’ve also had the honor of meeting with so many active supporters of CSSW, whose commitment to the success of the School and the field is truly humbling. Each of these discussions has been eye-opening and enriching, and helps to frame a new path forward.

Some have asked me what has surprised me most since coming to CSSW. My interactions have affirmed many of my expectations, while others have revealed the unanticipated. In the first category, I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of everyone at the School to its core mission of promoting social justice, maximizing the potential of every individual, and achieving excellence through diversity and inclusion. My expectations regarding the dedication and ingenuity of students and alumni have been unequivocally confirmed. My conversations have also demonstrated the degree to which CSSW provides a collegial and supportive environment—features that are essential to a successful future. I am humbled by the passionate commitment of the CSSW community, and I can clearly see that social work is not just a profession, but a true calling.

When it comes to “surprises,” I have to mention a few observations that are not entirely unexpected—but surprising in the depth of feeling and commitment that are so apparent. Most important in this category are three factors: my colleagues’ openness to change, their willingness to engage in difficult conversations, and their desire to break down the silos that too often encumber academic structures and pursuits. I cannot overstate the importance of these three specific characteristics, as they are essential to charting a course for the School’s future in which justice, innovation, and impact can grow and flourish.

In the coming days, I will continue my “listening and learning” tour, visiting a variety of practicum placement sites and meeting with even more of my colleagues, both within and beyond the School. The focus will be on honing plans to build on the School’s numerous strengths and reduce barriers to interdisciplinary partnerships—all with a view to amplifying our impact. I am extremely grateful for the work already done on the PROP initiative, which critically examines how power, race, oppression, and privilege affect our work, our perspectives, and our ability to achieve equity. I recognize that a great deal of hard work remains ahead of us, and I am fully committed to supporting my colleagues in the quest to ensure justice in the classroom and in practicum.

I am enormously proud to be the dean of this remarkable school, and so fortunate to be given the opportunity to dedicate myself to issues about which I care so very much. I am 100% confident that CSSW will maintain and enhance its position as the premier social work school in the nation, pursuing better science and better systems for a better society. Whether developing the evidence base for more effective practice and policy, or translating that evidence into action for direct human benefit—there is no question that the Columbia School of Social Work remains a leader in change for social good.

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