It is with a heavy heart that we respond to the Grand Jury’s decision to clear Officer Darren Wilson on all five counts for the fatal shooting of unarmed 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th. We recognize the pain and loss of Michael Brown’s family and understand their profound disappointment with the decisions.
We also appreciate the family’s strength and honor their request that we work toward solutions. In the words of the family, “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
In the words of our president, “We … recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”
At the UConn School of Social Work, we embrace this challenge. On Wednesday, December 3rd, we will come together to discuss Ferguson, and our own issues of racial, economic, and other forms of social justice in Connecticut. Details regarding the event will be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, please join the leadership of the School in sending thoughts of comfort and hope to all the families of people whose lives have been lost just this year at the hands of the police.
The human and social problems that social workers contend with every day often have their roots in the past: political upheavals that led to the marginalization of one group within the society, for example, or a wave of immigration to a new social setting.
A travel-study academic exchange program at the School of Social Work encourages UConn students to explore the Holocaust and its ongoing effects in Germany, while students from the University of Merseburg, Germany, learn about the history of race in the U.S. and its legacy in the present.
Not many people get the opportunity to visit the White House twice in one year, but Associate Professor, Dr. Barris Malcolm, had such an experience. This past June, Dr. Malcolm was invited by the Washington DC-based Caribbean and African Faith-Based Leadership Council to speak at their annual conference. The topic of his presentation was, Responding to the Needs of Returned (deported) Caribbean & African Citizens: Domestic and International Challenges and Opportunities”. The conference was part of a five-day working symposia during National Caribbean Heritage Legislative Week, that seeks through dialogue to identify the significant domestic and international needs, challenges and appropriate responses in ministering to individuals, families and communities of Caribbean and African diaspora in the USA.
As a result of his research and presentation, Dr. Malcolm was among fifteen leaders of the Caribbean American and African Faith Leadership Council invited by the Office of Public Engagement to a round-table briefing at the White House on November 12, 2014. This was an opportunity for White House officials to engage in dialogue with Caribbean American and African Faith Leaders on important issues facing their communities including; The Affordable Care Act, Ebola, and Immigration.
In light of the fact the President Obama has expressed his intent to use his executive powers to reform immigration laws, Dr. Malcolm and colleagues used this opportunity to discuss how various provisions may positively or negatively affect immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.
Virginia Ruiz received the UConn Provost’s Award for Excellence in Community Engaged Scholarship in the Graduate Student category, for her service to the Latino community.
Virginia has contributed in a variety of ways to the School of Social Work and the external Latino community. She demonstrated her student leadership ability by serving as chair of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) where she served as a strong and effective advocate, identifying the needs of Latino students, influencing policies affecting them, and serving as a link between the school and the Latino community. In addition, Virginia served as a student advocate in the Educational Review Committee, a faculty committee that meets with students experiencing academic and/or field internship difficulties.
Dean Salome Raheim, Virginia Ruiz, Dr. Antonia Cordero (Photo Credit: Tina Covensky)
Virginia’s second year internship was in the UConn SSW Puerto Rican and Latin@ Studies Project (PRSLP) where she led and facilitated a number of projects, including the researching and drafting of a Hartford Foundation grant proposal for a PRLSP community leadership mentoring program; coordinating PRLSP Advisory Board events; and facilitating a collaboration with CT Latino Legislators, the Nancy Humphrey’s Institute for Political Social Work and PRLSP to analyze and craft legislative policy designed to develop state wide public school standards that address the disproportionate arrests and expulsion of ethnic and racial minority students.
As a result of Virginia’s student leadership record, long-standing Latino community participation, reputation and activism, she was hired as the 2014 Coordinator for the Summer Exchange Program between the School of Social Work School and the University of Puerto Rico School of Social Work. As the Program Coordinator, Virginia developed and coordinated a 7 day, educational program that consisted of twelve educational workshops and ten visits to agencies and focused on policy, practice and community issues affecting Connecticut Latino communities.
On October 22, 2014 at Keney Park in Hartford, approximately 125 people from across CT including students from UConn SSW, UConn Storrs, Central CT State University, UConn Urban Semester, University of St. Joseph, and numerous ministers and community members rallied to protest Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. Hartford joined 30 cities demonstrating on the National Day of Protest, which started in 1996 by co-founders Cornell West and Carl Dix. Undergraduate student, Kendra Thomas, co-chaired the rally with Aswad.
Local rap artist RahRhyme performed a song “Don’t Shoot” about police brutality. UConn undergrad student, Daeja Bailey’s, spoken word poem titled “Black Boy” provided a touching message about the youth in our communities. Students provided individuals with the opportunity to register to vote during the rally.
In response to the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the numerous other incidences of police brutality around the country, the rally aimed to create a collective consciousness about incarceration as a systemic and racially biased injustice. Students organized to bring awareness, demand policy changes that address reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals and enhanced resources allocated for education, jobs, and mental health services. The message was delivered through speeches and performances from student leaders and prominent community figures.
“This protest will bring people together and strengthen our capacity to organize against something we see every day in our community. Incarceration is a personal problem; mass incarceration is everyone’s problem”, said Aswad Thomas, rally organizer and 2nd year community organization student at the UConn School of Social Work. Aswad discovered the National Day of Protest while building awareness and coalitions in protest of mass incarceration as a part of an independent study. Sandy Lomonico, another UConn Social Work student noted, “The system is unfair. It impacts impoverished communities who are battling a history of oppression and underfunded education and opportunities.”
“With only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population, it is clear that the United States is in a crisis. Mass incarceration can no longer go unnoticed. We must unite to reform our justice system and move toward a preventative model—rather than the punitive model we currently have that disproportionately affects people of color”, says Jasmin M. Haynes, a student from the School of Social Work.
More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. On any given day, 1 in 10 black males in their thirties is in prison or jail. Landon Osborn, 2nd year MSW student, stated, “Knowing the facts based around criminal justice, mass incarceration and the targeting of minorities, why hasn’t this become a major topic with in the social work world?” This is a question echoed not only within social work, but every discipline dedicated to helping people.
The rally was a huge success and truly inspired ALL in attendance.
The Association of Latina and Latino Social Work Educators (ALLSWE) recently awarded a scholarship to UConn SSW PhD student, Reinaldo Rojas. The scholarship is given annually to Latina/o doctoral, graduate, or undergraduate students who “demonstrate leadership in the social work context and aspire to a career of excellence.”
Reinaldo Rojas, MSW ’02
Reinaldo received the scholarship at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council of Social Work Education during the ALLSWE Meeting.
Reinaldo earned his MSW degree from the UConn School of Social Work in 2002. He began his doctoral studies in 2008 and is currently working on his dissertation on types of urban and community development and the impact it has on the socioeconomic status of residents, particularly in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford.
Reinaldo recently completed a research project with Dr. Cristina Wilson, to gain a better understanding of the important role that fathers play in Puerto Rican family life, including father involvement, parenting practices, and the relationship between the father and child. The results have been submitted for publication and Reinaldo also presented on the findings at the recent CSWE APM in Tampa, Florida.
Currently, Reinaldo holds a Visiting Lecturer position with the Urban and Community Studies program at the UConn Storrs Campus and is the coordinator of the UConn Urban Semester program.