As a student at the Smith College School for Social Work, Isaiah Jones says he has been able to explore a critical, yet seldom addressed, issue in the field: racism.

“Smith’s program has really opened my eyes to the importance of discussing race openly with other clinicians and clients,” said Jones, a third-year MSW student who is outgoing president of the school’s Council for Students of Color.

“This is the first institution I know of that has an anti-racism commitment,” Jones said.

Initially founded to address the needs of traumatized World War I veterans, Smith’s School for Social Work made a singular pledge in 1994 to work toward becoming an “anti-racism institution.”

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of that commitment—now part of the school’s mission statement— Jones and other council members organized a panel discussion Monday, July 14, featuring alumni whose work has been shaped by the program’s focus on social justice.

Marianne Yoshioka, the new dean of Smith’s School for Social Work, opened the panel, “The Powers of Smith (and Beyond).”

Yoshioka, who became head of the school July 1, said the anti-racism commitment was “a huge draw for me” in coming to Smith from Columbia University’s School of Social Work, where she was associate dean for academic affairs.

“I am deeply committed to the anti-racism mission,” Yoshioka told the audience of more than 50 gathered in Weinstein Auditorium. “And not just in the curriculum. That’s the easier part. It’s also about how we treat each other in the hallways, our process with faculty and staff, in everything we do.”

Jones said Smith social work students wanted to create an event that would serve both as a welcome to the new dean and a reminder of “how important the school’s anti-racism mission is” to the program.

“A lot of times people don’t know how to bring up race,” said Jones, who hopes to work in a counseling center with LGBTQ youth after he graduates. “But at Smith, it’s integrated into all different levels,” including classes, lectures for first-year students and a required anti-racism project.

The July 14 alumni panel was moderated by Kenta Asakura ’04, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto School for Social Work, who maintains a part-time practice serving LGBTQ clients of color.

Panelists were:

* Tomás Alvarez ’04, whose pioneering “Hip Hop Therapy” program in the Bay Area led to his being named a lifetime fellow of the Ashoka Foundation for social entrepreneurship. Alvarez is the founder of Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc., an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that supports youth of color.

* Enroue Halfkenny ’08, an artist, social justice activist and Yoruba priest who works with military families at a community mental health clinic in Connecticut;

* Keshia Williams ’08, a clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at Smith, whose work has focused on how racism affects family and community violence and school-based practice.

The School for Social Work’s free Summer Lecture Series continues July 18, when Smith adjunct professor Mary Olson will give the annual conference E. Diane Davis Memorial Lecture on “Open Dialogue: A New Approach to Post-Systemic Practice.” Olson is also an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and founder of The Institute for Dialogic Practice in Haydenville, Mass.

Other upcoming lectures include “Caring for Muslim Clients” on July 28 and “Pathways for Recovery from War-Related Psychological Injuries” on Aug. 4.

All lectures, which are free and open to the public, begin at 7:30 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium at Wright Hall.