This month, the UNC School of Social Work began its second annual Black History Month Research Series.
Hosted by UNC’s Global Social Development Innovations and INSPIRED lab, the series consists of virtual workshops and panels discussing research on inequities within the field of social work. The program’s first webinar occurred Feb. 8 and the series will continue to feature speakers through the end of the month.
The purpose of the Feb. 8 forum, “Confronting Racism Denial: Naming Racism and Moving to Action," was to provide a platform for “naming, challenging and eliminating racism”, said Trenette Goings, professor of social work and moderator of the lecture.
Dr. Camara Jones, senior fellow at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and speaker at the lecture, said racism denial encompasses the banning of racism education, equity and social justice.
She also said racism denial refers to instances of people not using the term ‘racism’ even when conducting anti-racism work – such as scholars who research disparities in health.
“You must name a problem to even get started on the solution,” Jones said.
Her presentation also included conversations about systemic racism, its impact on society and the importance of dismantling racism.
Jones discussed the prejudices of police brutality, physician disrespect, shopkeeper vigilance and teacher devaluation as what she defines as “personally-mediated racism."
Stefani Baca-Atlas, a graduate student who attended the lecture, said the conversation was inspiring as a student studying structural racism. She said listening to Jones discuss her research and book brought “life to the story” that she had not experienced before.
She has seen a lot of growth in the School throughout the past few years with events like these, and that there has been a lot of forward momentum.
"As a scholar of social racism, it's wonderful to see it discussed more often and more openly, but I think especially as a woman of color, feeling that sense of being seen. I feel like that's huge," she said. "The more and more we have these conversations I think the easier they have become to digest for people."
The second event of the series was held on Feb. 15 and was titled “Racial Disparities in HIV Prevention and Care: Moving to Action," and featured panelists who discussed health disparities in HIV treatment.
Panel member Sylvia Shangani, assistant professor of community health sciences at Boston University, said her research looks at underlying factors for differences in the use of HIV prevention strategies among Black women.
There are many structural barriers to preventative care for Black populations, Shangani said. These obstacles can include historical medical mistrust, lack of medical insurance and limited access to transportation — which keep an individual from prioritizing HIV prevention.
“It was actually a privilege to be at a panel because addressing health inequities is dear to me, being a Black woman, being also originally an immigrant,” Shangani said.
Miriam Madison, a graduate student within the School who plans to continue attending the lectures, said the research is a form of activism that allows for solutions that will impact Black communities and beyond.
“Being a Black student at the School of Social Work — it exposes me to scholarship that had I not seen it represented by someone who looks like me, I probably would not know that it’s a possibility that I could do that type of work, or potentially support that type of thing after I graduate,” Madison said.
She also said the lecture series is navigating social work in a way that aims to make these concepts both available and understandable to the masses. This can “light a fire” for current and future Black scholars, Madison said.
The research series continues with a workshop titled “Transforming Institutional Practices that Harm Black Families: Moving to Action” on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at noon. Registration is required and can be done through this link.
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