School of Social Welfare dean proposes schoolwide actions to improve diversity

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About 100 faculty members and graduate students at the campus School of Social Welfare met Tuesday to review an action plan proposed by the dean and aims to improve integration of more diversity and social justice curriculum into the program.

Originally scheduled as an event held each semester for graduate students to meet with the dean, the event’s focus was changed in response to a Feb. 24 meeting regarding a professor’s controversial comments about black-on-black crime, according to first-year graduate student Ariana Allensworth. All classes in the department were canceled for the duration of the two-hour meeting so that faculty and students could attend.

The action plan proposed changes to the program and courses, implementation of school task forces, improving instructional practices and changes to the recruitment and retention of students.
“Both students and faculty want to see the plan implemented with specific outcomes and a clear timetable,” said Jeffrey Edleson, the school’s dean, in an email.

Those in attendance were asked to review the plan, make adjustments and suggest concrete steps through a facilitated discussion.

Changes to the curriculum must be approved by the school’s senate faculty, Edleson said at the meeting. One item on the action plan, which was to offer a part-time option for the master’s program, was recently approved by the senate faculty and will be available to students entering the program this fall.

Edleson was asked to formulate the action plan at the Feb. 24 teach-in, during which students said they were offended by a professor’s comments on the Black Lives Matter movement and by a rap he delivered to a class of primarily first-year graduate students.

Students said Steven Segal, a tenured professor who has taught for 40 years in the department, introduced the subject black-on-black crime in a small group discussion at a Feb. 9 Black Lives Matter event. They criticized Segal for reintroducing the topic of black-on-black crime in the form of a rap, which he read aloud to the 26 students in his mental health and social policy class the day after the event.

Students asked faculty members in attendance to write down and present three timely and actionable goals as part of an exercise to address faculty accountability.

“The action plan showed us a positive way forward,” Segal said in an email. “The input and small group discussions in which I was involved were constructive and I appreciated the student-organized activity on faculty accountability.”

Students intend to hold the faculty accountable to their proposed goals through follow-up conversations, Allensworth said.

“Given the high turnover of students…we realize their buy-in over this process is essential in order to create lasting change in the program for future students,” she said in an email.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.