Statement from Interim Dean Irwin Garfinkel on Fighting White Supremacy

August 15, 2017 @ 8:46 pm

Many of us watched in outrage and horror as white supremacist and Nazi demonstrators marched on Charlottesville, VA, and took the life of counter-protester Heather Heyer in a terrorist attack. At the Columbia School of Social Work, we condemn their vicious bigotry. There are not “many sides” to Nazi and white supremacist terror. These poisonous ideologies have no place in a just society. The events of this weekend are another call to confront the ugly reality of racism in our country. We must once again figure out how to grieve, how to heal, and how to take action.

Within and beyond our own campus, we must organize in opposition to violence perpetrated against people of color, especially Black and African-American people. We must understand our country’s history of racist oppression, and the ways in which people of color are demonized by politicians, targeted by police, and disproportionately persecuted by our justice system in the name of “law and order.” Those of us who benefit from white privilege must commit to dismantling it. We must affirm that Black lives matter in our words and deeds, amplify the voices of people of color, and reckon with racist demagogues who undermine our values of pluralism and sanctuary. President Trump’s reluctance to condemn racist violence is a sickening bow to white supremacists. His eventual statement suggests that he did so only when people across the partisan divide demanded a denunciation. This circumstance is a powerful reminder that we share a duty, right and left alike, to rebuke white supremacy.

As social workers, we must engage with the trauma of this moment while cultivating hope. Each of us came to Columbia to channel our commitment to justice into action. Students and faculty at the School of Social Work have long been on the frontlines of civil rights in America. Some have even sacrificed their lives for this cause, like CSSW student Michael Schwerner, who was murdered by the KKK while registering African-American voters in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Many of our students and faculty engage bravely in the struggle for racial justice today. In this historic moment, we must perform the difficult work that will heal the wounds of racism in our country, in our communities of origin and choice, and in our hearts and minds. On behalf of the faculty and administration of the Columbia School of Social Work, I commit to continuing that work with you.


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