A message from Dean Sarah Gehlert regarding George Floyd

Dear members of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work community:

It has been unbearable to witness and comprehend the senseless death of George Floyd, and to hear the agony of those directly and indirectly affected by it. As I watched cities across the county erupt in protest over the weekend, it was a powerful reminder of how far we have not progressed as a nation with regard to racism. I was part of the St. Louis community when Michael Brown was murdered and it seems as if we have made no progress in the years since that occurred. In some ways, it seems as if we are less tolerant than we were in 2014. This is a deep wound, a painful history that continues to replay throughout law enforcement, penal systems, legislature, educational institutions and national politics. We are angry, frustrated, heartbroken… and simply tired of this inequality and injustice.

It is clear to me that we are all affected by this intolerance, and need to do more than merely protest. This issue is at the core of so many of the problems we face as a society, and requires not only vigilance but actions to change policies that separate groups within our society, marginalizing some, and leading to deep mistrust, fear and hatred. In a documentary that the writer James Baldwin began in 1979, that remained unfinished until 30 years after his death in 1987, he warned about the growing number of housing, employment and other policies that separate groups, severely limiting communication, and breeding deep mistrust.

As social workers, we must work toward changing policies, fostering communication between groups and demonstrating the communication that we so desperately need. Racism and discrimination do not just affect some within our society, they affect all of us. We cannot allow ourselves to shake our heads, wring our hands and wait until the next injustice occurs. It is vital that our school’s faculty, students, staff and alumni work in concert with the communities in which we live and serve to examine and address the root cause of intolerance, incorporate this new understanding into our teaching and research and demonstrate the optimal respect, tolerance and equality to others that will save our souls. While this is an enormous charge, it is fundamental for all social workers to be leaders in this effort. If we do not do it, who will?

It is important to remember that while the acts of violence that we have seen perpetrated against George Floyd, Ahmed Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others is unspeakably tragic, these events are fueled by the growing divide about which Baldwin wrote so many years ago, and the misunderstanding that it creates.

While it is easy to become discouraged, we can find hope. It is not enough to discuss what has happened, we need to work toward substantive solutions and model and teach ways of fostering honest and direct conversations in order to create change.

We can work together to stem the tide of negativity through a combination of science and humanity. I believe that we are capable of creating a society that is equitable for all. It will require dedication, determination and a willingness to take a sincere inventory of our own privilege. We are strong enough to do this.

I challenge you in the coming months to work together toward solutions. Our understanding of society and how it works, as well as our history of working across communities and groups, can lead us to a new day, if we are willing to work together to do it.

Dean Gehlert Signature



Sarah Gehlert



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