OSU School of Social Work Dean Is Not Silent on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement


Over the past year, we have witnessed massive protests around the world spawned by human rights violations, declining labor rights, and austerity cuts to public services. The plight for many Americans struggling with poverty and located in low-income neighborhoods are not being spared the same fate in our “land of plenty”.

These protests have brought to light the use of police forces and government resources being used to further suppress the voices of the poor and what appears to be an acceptable disdain for policing communities of color. Many have predicted this period in our history will be remembered as the third reconstruction, but how will social work be remembered regarding the most important issues in our life time?

Since Ferguson and the development of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, it is my opinion that social work leadership is failing to engage and participate in discussions on behalf of vulnerable populations with very little political power. Largely, I have been disappointed in the social work profession as whole for the lack of any organized national efforts to advocate on a range of social issues affecting the clients we serve.

However, I was able to get a glimpse of what a top down effort could look like when social work leadership leads an effort instead individuals being forced to act autonomously without social work leadership support. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Ohio State University College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire who lead a #BlackLivesMatter March for their community. Here is what Dean Gregoire had to say about why it was important for him to get involved.

SWH: Why was it important for you and the School of Social Work to lead a march on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?

We have all be moved by the events of the past year and wanted a tangible demonstration of support for our students, faculty, and staff colleagues. It is important to hold conversation about emergent social topics.  But as social workers, it is also important at times to transcend talk. By marching we “walked our talk” and provided a demonstration of our concern and support that transcended conversation.

SWH: How are student’s processing in the classroom the racial tension and angst manifesting in a variety ways across the country?

I believe that a lot of our community is in pain regarding the level of racial tension and violence. We feel the need to communicate our concern and support. Although we hosted a public forum on these issues, we did not think we were doing an effective enough job of providing the vehicles for classroom attention to the issues that are manifesting nationwide.  I believe that left our entire community wanting more, and looking to us for a strong statement. So we took a walk together.

SWH: How did the use of social media help to increase awareness of your school’s on the ground efforts with the #BlackLivesMatter March?

Social Media played a critical role.  We made a decision to participate in the walk on Wednesday, and then marched together on Saturday, only three days later.  All of our communication was via social media. Social media was important in allowing those who wanted to support the walk but were unable to attend.  Via social media our impact and reach was much broader, and allowed far great involvement.  To further carry the message we created a Storify to tell the social media story of our day, https://storify.com/osucsw/blacklivesmatter-march

SWH: How do you think social work institutions and members of our profession can engage in the large discussion on poverty and institutional racism within the systems we work?

Social media is an important vehicle for carrying the message. It is not constrained by traditional media, and its much more real time. We are not dependent on the mainstream for getting our message out.  I also think it’s important to be open to conversation that moves us toward solution. It is important to be a witness and a voice in the face of social injustice and a voice.  As social workers we need to transcend complaint alone and lean into difficult issues with an expectation of leading change.  Finally,

SWH: What do you feel are the biggest barriers and challenges for social workers to engage and/or have an impact on the social issues of our day?

Courage and curiosity are two important precursors to having an impact on important social issues. Courage allows us to believe that we can make a difference, and helps us be patient for the enduring effort.  Curiosity is the path to new solutions   Rather than thinking we have all the answers, a willingness to see a problem in a completely different way is the only path to new strategies. We need more sentences starting with “what if?” and fewer with “yes but”.

We are often dragged into zero-sum arguments, ones that pit vulnerable groups against each other.  Should limited resources go to support needy children, or older adults?  Is the oppression of people of color more urgent than attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ community?  When we are arguing among ourselves we are not advancing.  Nothing preserves the status-quo better than when the people who need it changed are fighting among themselves.

4 Reasons the Internet is the Worst Place to Discuss Social Issues!

With the recent #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen debate flying around it occurred to me that the internet is an awful place to have a dialog about sensitive issues. While people can converse about things that are not emotional charged over the internet like Kittens, they also converse about emotional charged things in smaller groups over the internet on platforms such as Reddit.  Large groups of people can exhibit a mob effect online where individual users parrot inflammatory comments, or type them I guess.

1. We Think We are Actually Contributing to the Cause

via Facebook

Many people, not just a few, share these types of social media posts.  In fact, they often get close to the one million likes they request. We think that our action on the internet is a fair substitution for action in real life. We hit share and pat ourselves on the back, assured in the knowledge that we are helping someone in third world country, end poverty, end violence against women, or whatever the designated cause may be. Yes, you should share these links to help spread awareness about social issues, but it should not be a substitution for getting involved in a cause.

2. People say some insane things….

With the wonders of the internet, you would think people would fact check themselves before posting things. Sadly, they don’t. They don’t even leave themselves grounded in reality most of the time. You have comments like these:

Earth mayatweet

Unfortunately, uninformed posts muck up the argument because people comment back on them as if they are fact or they may dedicate their time pointing out the fallacy of the post. Worse, many people have not learned the internet is a den of lies, and they may interpret uninformed posts as breaking news.

3. We can’t keep a cool head

When did you last yell at a stranger? When did you last type an inflammatory comment on a post on the internet? Point made?

We don’t tend to say mean things or yell at strangers because there are consequences! But on the internet, there really are none. So we type things with out thinking of the consequences or considering each others feelings in the matter. There have even been studies about why we act the way we do.

According to an article in the Washington Journal,

Anonymity is a powerful force. Hiding behind a fake screen name makes us feel invincible, as well as invisible. Never mind that, on many websites, we’re not as anonymous as we think—and we’re not anonymous at all on Facebook. Even when we reveal our real identities, we still misbehave.

According to soon-to-be-published research from professors at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, browsing Facebook lowers our self-control. The effect is most pronounced with people whose Facebook networks were made up of close friends, the researchers say.

Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes”—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.  Read Full Article

If you can’t be bothered to read the article, please refer to this NSFW Penny Arcade comic for a greater understanding.

4. It isn’t a dialog

We would all love to think the internet is a medium for dialog, but it isn’t. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram allow you to comment on each others posts. Yes, you can comment back, but people rarely do. Most of the time, they are either parroting the point of the author or seeking to rebut them. Either way, there is no actually dialog occurring.

Don’t worry I am guilty of it too. Share this article and maybe we can work on creating real #InternetDialog.

These images are courtesy of  http://dumbesttweets.com/.

Using T-shirts for Promotion and Advocacy

Kim Kardashian GreenHave you heard of the phrase, ‘survival of the fittest’? If your organization can adapt and change over time, the possibility of survival and growth increases. This phrase is applicable in every sector whether it be the public, private, or nonprofit sector. If you are looking to operate in the major-leagues, your survival depends on many factors. However, promotion should be one of your highest priorities.

If people are not aware about your existence, the ability to achieve your goals will be greatly diminished. Promotion is not limited to for-profits, nonprofits and public sector organizations need advertising to create awareness as well as attract attendees and volunteers to carry out campaigns. It is essential to have frugal marketing tactics and t-shirts happen to be the most successful promotional merchandise in creating social awareness.

Social Issues

Visual appeal is always more attention grabbing than verbal. Keeping this in mind, non-profit organizations have been using t-shirts to create awareness about various social issues like deforestation, green conservation, cleanliness and so on. These can be done in both funny and in general manner. You can print direct messages on the tee like “Save earth!” or you can create funny comical characters to promote serious concerns related to society. If you wear a unique t-shirt, you will find people staring; use this opportunity to create social awareness and pass on your messages.

Health Issues

You can even use tees to create consciousness about serious health issues like AIDS, cancer, malnutrition and so on. The pictographic description is strong enough to make the onlookers understand the importance of these issues. You can even find t-shirts printed with funny quotes about losing weight and encouraging people to do exercise. Apart from these, there are many other health concerns, which have been often ignored but can lead to fatal impact in later part of life. For instance, you can promote the importance of consuming certain food items like milk, cereals, fish through the printed tees and draw attention of people.

Animal Protection Issues

A number of animal protection organizations have been using t-shirts for ages, to make the mankind realize the value of animals. These tees speak about care, love, friendship and closeness that people can enjoy with animals. You can even share knowledge about endangered animals, which required protection. For instance, you will find WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has been using t-shirts in promoting animal protection issues and at the same time advertising the organization to a large audience. Usually, animal protection tees are with pictures because images leave greater impact on mind than a message.

Budget is always a big concern for any organization. T-shirt can cost a bit more than creating a poster, but the awareness it creates is massive because you have essentially created a mobile bill board. You should consider restricting your resources on other marketing techniques and put more emphasis on t-shirt promotion to enjoy greater recognition. Giving out promotional t-shirts to people who can send out your messages to a large audience is one of the best ways to expand the reach of your organization. Use the power of t-shirts for promoting events and serious issues with style and creativity.

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