May 29, 2020

An open letter from School of Social Work Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Val Kalei Kanuha on behalf of the School's leadership team

Dear UW School of Social Work Community:

Along with our families, friends and colleagues around the country, we express our outrage and grief at the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. While many consider this a senseless act of violence, for many in African American communities, this was an intentional act of impunity against another human being—and all too commonplace against Black Americans. We condemn this killing and what it exemplifies about the ways that racist attitudes and beliefs are embedded in the structures of institutions and everyday life in America. We send our prayers to the family of Mr. Floyd, his friends and neighbors, and entire communities who have been deeply affected by his death.

The School of Social Work is grounded in the promotion of social and economic justice for oppressed and vulnerable populations. The false accusation against New York birdwatcher Chris Cooper by a white woman who told police that an African American man was threatening her, the fatal shooting of jogger Ahmaud Arbery by two white men who thought he fit the description of a robbery suspect, and the killing of EMT Breonna Taylor in her own bedroom by police at the wrong address are all recent cases of human rights abuses. As a School, we do not and will not stand for acts of intimidation and violence that are based in prejudice, bigotry and hatred.

The six schools of health sciences at UW has published a collaborative statement to address this centuries-long history of violence against African Americans and other vulnerable populations. We are also planning an upcoming virtual gathering across the health sciences to discuss this recent spate of killings in Black, Native American and other communities of color. Please watch for an announcement with details of this event.

In this challenging and troubling time of COVID-19, where we just surpassed 102,000 deaths in the United States, we are living every day with illness, death and the loss of livelihoods and ways of life that many have considered “normal.” However, the coronavirus has also exposed longstanding health, economic, educational, and behavioral health disparities and inequities in this country. Let us keep everyone who is in need in our hearts and minds right now. Give money, donate food, deliver goods to your neighbors, visit the elderly or those who are ill, thank anyone who is serving the public, reach out to those who are incarcerated or detained, give comfort to the weary. Once again, it is time for us to stand together for justice.

Val Kalei Kanuha, MSW, PhD
Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
University of Washington
School of Social Work

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Photo: 10,000-plus demonstrators from UW health science schools and medical facilities demanding racial justice in Seattle, June 6, 2020. 
Photo credit: Scott Kranz