SSA is Well Positioned to Meet New Challenges

(This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of SSA Magazine.)

As we go to press, we are commencing the four-year term of the nation's 45th president, whose election has generated many concerns, worries, and conversations at SSA. And although we start 2017 still with much uncertainty, we do know the election and new Administration present extraordinary implications and challenges—some which directly impact our community and those whom we serve.

The current national context offers an opportunity to reaffirm—in the strongest possible terms—the values that SSA strives to embody: to serve and to advocate for the most vulnerable and marginalized. Having withstood and shaped more than a century of national events, this is a moment to redouble our resolve to enact the enduring ideals of our profession and School.

We at SSA collectively share the privilege and responsibility of doing so in University of Chicago fashion: through fostering the highest levels of professionalism and through the questioning of prevailing modes of thinking and action. SSA and the University of Chicago remain steadfast in fostering open, free, and uncensored expression of ideas and viewpoints; the advancement of and reliance on the most rigorous evidence in forming our ideas and professional strategies; and the thoughtful, compassionate, and civil discussion of our most complicated social problems. To underscore this core principle, SSA Associate Professor Gina Miranda Samuels and Assistant Professor Marci Ybarra recently organized with my office a discussion series that explores the history, values, and practices of academic freedom and the need to advance an inclusive and diverse University community and society.

The first event of the series, held in early January and sponsored by SSA's Committee on Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity, featured John Boyer, historian and Dean of the UChicago College; Zareena Grewal, Associate Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies and the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale University, and former director of the Center for the Study of American Muslims at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; Lorraine M. Gutiérrez, AM '78, Professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and head of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts; and Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at UChicago's Law School and noted First Amendment scholar. The panelists considered the concepts of academic freedom, alongside diversity and inclusion goals in higher education, and the distinctive ways UChicago SSA is Well Positioned to Meet New Challenges interprets and practices academic responsibility and protects freedom of expression and rigorous debate.

As leaders in social work, SSA will continue to convene events and promote dialogue on diversity, inclusion, free expression, and social justice in the classroom and at other hosted events. One recent event, Violence, Racism, and Urban America, part of SSA's Illuminating (In)justice series, included a screening of two short films by Carlos Javier Ortiz and Tina Sacks, AM '98, PhD '13—A Thousand Midnights, which explores the legacy of the Great Migration, and We All We Got, a chronicle of urban youth violence. Following the viewing, the filmmakers, community members, and staff from SSA’s Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention offered perspectives on youth violence, poverty, and marginalized communities. At another event, Eve Ewing, an SSA Postdoctoral Scholar who begins her faculty appointment in 2018, moderated a discussion with Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, who shared her views on the movement’s efforts, activism, and community organizing.

Addressing other urban social issues, including the future of our health care policies, remains a critical SSA priority.

During a pre-election panel discussion, SSA's Helen Ross Professor Harold Pollack joined other UChicago experts to discuss the future of the Affordable Care Act. Following the election, Harold joined Professor Colleen Grogan for a program exploring the ramifications of possible changes to Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid. Associate Professor Jennifer Mosley's article (see article on page 24) is another timely examination of how people in social services can advocate for meaningful policy changes. Another growing concern—income inequality—was the topic of a discussion hosted by the University’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, with SSA Assistant Professor Marci Ybarra as a featured panelist.

Community collaborations are an essential element that deepens and strengthens SSA's work. One exciting example is a community partnership led by Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor and Deputy Dean for Research and Faculty Development Deborah Gorman-Smith with Bronzeville’s Bright Star Community Outreach. Working with the community (see article on page 4), Deborah and the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention team are developing solid evidence on effective youth violence prevention strategies. Another example is SSA’s Network for College Success (NCS), an effort with Chicago Public Schools that is reducing the high school dropout rate to historically low levels in the city. At its tenth anniversary celebration late last year, NCS paid tribute to SSA Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor Melissa Roderick, one of its founding visionaries. NCS also rolled out the To&Through project, which seeks to improve the success rate for students aspiring to earn a college degree. Other SSA faculty members are strengthening our urban social work agenda, including Associate Professor Matthew Epperson, who co-leads the national Smart Decarceration Initiative, which is rethinking our approach to punishment, rehabilitation, and incarceration (see article on page 18). Related to this initiative, Matt moderated a recent discussion that featured panelists describing how incarceration has shaped their advocacy work in the decarceration movement. To further refine strategies, SSA will host the Smart Decarceration Initiative’s second national conference later in 2017.

On the global stage, we are magnifying our impact through research, capacity building, curricular advances, and innovative collaborations. Assistant Professor Leyla Ismayilova's new research in the west African nation of Burkina Faso (see article on page 12) is an important study on effective child abuse interventions in a developing country. In China, Professor Robert Chaskin and I presided over a formal signing ceremony of the new China Collaborative in Beijing and Hong Kong. This ground-breaking partnership between SSA, Peking University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University lays the foundation for collaborative work that will help build the profession of social work in China. The first steps in this collaboration include a recently concluded China Winter Institute for Master's students across the three universities focusing on globalization, urbanization, and migration. In the summer of 2017, the China Collaborative will launch a series of research workshops and symposia to promote scholarly exchange, research planning, and curricular development that will further inform community fieldwork and intervention efforts in China.

Here at SSA, we welcomed Kristen Reid Salomon as our new Assistant Dean of Students in December (see page 41). We also are fortunate that Professor Curtis McMillen, recently appointed as SSA's David and Mary Winton Green Professor, has taken up the responsibilities of our new Deputy Dean of Curriculum.

With your help, we can continue SSA’s important mission with the highest levels of professionalism and scholarship. In this uncertain time, we need leaders in social work with the courage and expertise to question the status quo, influence policy, and execute bold ideas. Join us so we can uphold our long tradition of service to improve the lives of the most vulnerable, now and in the years to come.


Neil Guterman, MSW, PhD, is the Dean and Mose & Sylvia Firestone Professor in the School of Social Service Administration.