A Call to Schools of Social Work: Prepare the Profession to Undo Structural Racism - 2007

A Call to Schools of Social Work:
Prepare the Profession to Undo Structural Racism

February 2007


We call upon our schools of social work to prepare the social work professional to undo structural racism which has such an adverse impact on mental health and which is a root cause of poverty and other social inequities.

Social workers who have completed the Undoing Racism workshop offered by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond realize that our professional education does not adequately prepare us to address issues of structural racism. By default we have become gatekeepers who participate in maintaining an inequitable status quo.

We petition schools of social work to embrace the Undoing Racism paradigm developed by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond (www.pisab.org), which provides a strategic process for dismantling structural racism in social work education, practice and research.

We call upon each school to join with other SW schools and practitioners in building a movement for positive social change. We believe this will happen when we address as a collective how structural racism is built into our own institutions and systems.

Therefore we request that:

1. Each SW School commit to having Deans, Board Members and Administrators participate in Undoing Racism training in order to ensure that all SW educational leaders share a common set of concepts and vocabulary regarding racism.

2. Each SW School commit to participating in regular post-training collaborative meetings with other schools for the purpose of developing a strategic plan to eliminate structural racism in Social Work Education.

3. Each Social Work School commit to urging agencies providing field work experience to send their policy-making staff to Undoing Racism training.


It is our understanding that one of the most damaging underpinnings of our society is the reality of systemic structural racism that has its roots in the birth of our nation and continues today. Racism affects every aspect of psychological, economic, political, and social life, as we know it.

Social work, like our larger society, has been unable to articulate the full meaning of racism. Recent attempts by our profession and its educational programs to focus on diversity, multiculturalism and disparities are important. These attempts, however, have fallen short in addressing the problem of racism, which we believe is central to the profession's mission and everyday practice.

We recognize that social workers contend with many forms of oppression. We do not want to argue whether one form of oppression is more important than another. We do believe that racism worsens other oppressions, since persons of color live with racial bias in every facet of their lives. Thus, as social workers analyze racism and understand its effects on our work through an "Undoing Racism" process, we become more effective educators and more humane practitioners.

The ANTIRACISTALLIANCE is a movement to undo structural racism among an organizing collective of human service practitioners and educators whose vision is to bring a clear and deliberate anti-racist structural power analysis to social service education and practice.

We work to undo structural racism from a common understanding as presented by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond in the Undoing Racism Workshop. The People's Institute is recognized as one of the foremost anti-racism training and organizing institutions in the nation. It moves beyond a focus on the symptoms of racism to an understanding of what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone.

Structural (institutional) racism refers to racist policies that occur at an organizational or group level. These policies are embedded in the operating contexts of particular organizations or institutions in such a way that racist assumptions may be difficult to recognize. One such example is society's tolerance for substandard educational systems for urban, largely minority children when compared to their suburban counterparts. Another such example includes how residential segregation can serve as a barrier to obtaining adequate mental health treatment. Many have difficulty recognizing such phenomena as racist; however, be it deliberate or inadvertent, one group is adequately serviced while another is disproportionately marginalized. Often times, these structural oversights represent path-dependent legacies from previous eras, yet create powerfully invisible barriers that perpetuate group roles in our society. (from APA 2006)

We recognize that structural inequalities in society result in differential access to and distribution of power (economic, political, social, and cultural) for groups of people. We believe that the elimination of structural inequalities, the establishment of policies to ensure equity and accountability to people of color defines antiracist social work practice.