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Repairing the Community


September 18, 2001

Dear SSW Community:

In response to the aftermath of the past week's events, the resident faculty of the Smith College School for Social Work and I would like to convey the following sentiments to our academic community:

First, let us convey our profound sorrow about the loss of so many innocent lives, and our heartfelt condolences to any member of the community who has experienced a personal loss at this difficult time. The damage inflicted on New York City and Washington, D.C. is so shocking and the loss of life so appalling that we assume no one of us is unaffected. It seems likely that the crisis will continue and perhaps even deepen in the weeks and months ahead. We ask then, that in your grief and concern for others, you also remember to find ways of taking care of yourselves, and of affirming or reaffirming your fundamental belief in people's potential to create a safe and just world for all.

Second, as the year progresses, it will be even more important than usual for you to use the support of your supervisor, Faculty Field Advisor and trusted colleagues as you work toward fulfilling your personal goals for clinical social work education and your professional responsibilities to clients and your placement agency.

All of us probably agree that the government will have to formulate some response to the terrorist attacks. We may not, however, agree about the nature and dimensions of an appropriate response. It is our responsibility as social workers, social work interns, educators and members of the School's support staff to think deeply and carefully about how we want to respond to these events, and in what ways we can be of help to others as they try to understand the meaning of what has happened. As colleagues in an institution that promotes anti-racism initiatives, it is also our collective responsibility to combat the racist attitudes and behaviors being enacted towards individuals now perceived as "enemies" in our midst. It is a responsibility we must now, more than ever before, undertake seriously and with commitment.

While feelings of rage and horror are understandable at this time, many of you are likely to hear overt racist comments about individuals who are thought to originate in Islamic nations. Moreover, some of you may become the targets of very personal racist acts or comments. In our private worlds, we can challenge those individuals who demonize or scapegoat us and/or particular members of our communities. And, we know that demonizing others will not bring justice, bring back loved ones or increase our safety. In our professional worlds, we may be faced with clients who exhibit overtly racist attitudes. We encourage you to talk about possible intervention strategies with other social workers, your supervisors, your faculty field advisor, and those trusted others you ordinarily look to for support.

The faculty and staff at the School are shocked and saddened in the wake of last week's terrible events. For now, perhaps the most constructive thing you can do is to stay connected with each other, with loved ones and with us at the School. Please let us know if there are specific issues or concerns we can address. Our thoughts are with all of you as you (and we) struggle to respond to this tragedy, and to find meaningful ways of contributing to our personal and professional communities.

Carolyn Jacobs
Acting Dean of the Smith College School for Social Work

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