Social Work Education in the Shadow of Confederate Statues and the Specter of White Supremacy


  • Travis Albritton UNC CH
  • Charity S. Watkins North Carolina Central University
  • Allison De Marco UNC CH
  • JP Przewoznik UNC CH
  • Andrew Heil Avance Health Care



Racial justice, social work education, oppression, white supremacy


Driven by our code of ethics and our call to reckon with our embeddedness within a white supremacist institution in the US South, the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work re-visioned our approach to the MSW curriculum. Using case study methods, we trace our history and on-going work through interviews, document review, and community conversations, centering student voices. Students interviewed spoke about activism prompted by racist events on campus and nationally, and the inadequate response from the administration. Their efforts led to school-wide initiatives including curriculum shifts and accountability and action. The first-year generalist course, Confronting Oppression and Institutional Discrimination was restructured and resituated. Critical Race Theory was infused across the coursework. Two new working groups were created: The Anti-Racism Task Force and Reconciliation Standing Committee. Efforts to address racism and white supremacy in academic spaces require sustained activism to expose how racism is embedded within our institutions. While much work remains in the practice of becoming an antiracist institution, this model can serve as a prototype for others as they work to create programs that are site-specific and universally reflective of the institutional changes we need.


Abrams, L. S., & Moio, J. A. (2009). Critical race theory and the cultural competence dilemma in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 45(2), 245-261.

Adams, K. B., Matto, H. C., & LeCroy, C. W. (2009). Limitations of evidence-based practice for social work education: Unpacking the complexity. Journal of Social Work Education, 45(2), 165-186.

Associated Press News. (2019, August 8). Timeline of events in shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.


Bell, D. A. (1995). Who's afraid of critical race theory. University of Illinois Law Review, 1995, 893-910.


Bromley, D. B. (1986). The case-study method in psychology and related disciplines (pp. 39-54). Wiley.

Clark, E. J., Weismiller, T., Whitaker, T., Waller, G. W., Zlotnik, J. L., Corbett, B. (Eds.). (2006). 2005 Social Work Congress-Final report. NASW Press.

Council on Social Work Education [CSWE]. (2015). Educational policy and accreditation standards for baccalaureate and master’s social work programs.

CSWE. (2018). 2017 statistics on social work education in the United States.

Drechsler, K., Hessenauer, S., & Jaber-Wilson, L. (2019). Engage in Diversity and Difference in Practice Competency: Exploring the Explicit Curriculum and Outcome Measures of Graduate Social Work Programs. Journal of Social Work Education, 56(2), 341-353.

Graham, N. (2016, November 18). Noteworthy firsts: Hortense McClinton. For the Record.

Harris, A. (2018, Dec. 3). Silent Sam Survives. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.


Jani, J. S., Pierce, D., Ortiz, L., & Sowbel, L. (2011). Access to intersectionality, content to competence: Deconstructing social work education diversity standards. Journal of Social Work Education, 47(2), 283-301.

Jones, T. B., Wilder, J., & Osborne-Lampkin, L. T. (2013). Employing a Black feminist approach to doctoral advising: Preparing Black women for the professoriate. The Journal of Negro Education, 82(3), 326-338.


Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One world.

Killgrove, K. (2018). Scholars Explain the Racist History of UNC's Silent Sam Statue. Forbes.

Liechty, J. M., Liao, M., & Schull, C. P. (2009). Facilitating dissertation completion and success among doctoral students in social work. Journal of Social Work Education, 45(3), 481-497.

Moss, G. (2015, February 27). Mrs. McClinton did not study black history--she lived it. University Gazette.

National Association of Social Workers. (2017). NASW code of ethics.

Okun. T. (1999). White Supremacy Culture. Dismantling Racism Works.

Outlaw, J. (2009, February 2). John Turner, former UNC dean and social work trailblazer, passes away. UNC News Archives.


PBS. (2017, March 30). What the North Carolina legislation to repeal HB2 ‘bathroom bill’ actually says. News Hour.

Sheehey, M. (2020, Feb 13). Unraveling the story behind the Silent Sam lawsuit. In The Daily Tarheel. Retrieved from

Stancil, J. (2018, Aug. 20). Protesters topple Silent Sam Confederate statue at UNC. News & Observer.


The Black Student Movement. (n.d.). Mission and history.

The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History. (2019a, June 18). The BSM’s 23 demands: December 1968.

The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History. (2019b, June 18). Food workers’ strike: February to March 1969.

The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History. (2019c, June 18). The Black student movement at Carolina.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2020, August 1). Paving the way: Carolina’s Black pioneers.

UNC School of Social Work. (2021a). Inclusion.

UNC School of Social Work. (2021b). Mission, vision, and values.

Watkins, C. (2017, August 27). Letter: UNC’s racism includes School of Social Work. Daily Tar Heel.

Yin, R. K. (2012). A (very) brief refresher on the case study method. In Applications of case study research (3rd ed., pp. 3-20). Sage.