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The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Friday, August 17, 2012

College, civil rights, the past, and the present

Earlier this week, my alma mater, the University of Georgia, commemorated the 50th anniversary of its first African American graduate. Mary Frances Early received her master's degree in music education from UGA on August 16, 1962. The commemoration took place in the Fine Arts Building, a place I knew well during my undergraduate years.

Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were the first black students at UGA in 1961. However, Early transferred to Georgia from the University of Michigan and was the first of these pioneering students to graduate. She eventually became the first African American president of the Georgia Music Educators Association, and later was the head of the music department at Clark Atlanta University.

Later, around 1968, the first African American professor arrived on the UGA campus. That professor was Dr. Richard M. Graham, a pioneer in the field of music therapy, who became my professor and a major influence in my life in the same school of music from which Mary Frances Early had graduated.

In addition, Dr. Maurice Daniels, dean of the UGA School of Social Work, spoke at the commemoration, addressing the historical significance of Early's graduation on the civil rights movement. Dr. Daniels arrived at the University of Georgia during the time that I was a graduate student there.

When I read about the commemoration, I felt proud that both my undergraduate and graduate schools were involved in this historical event. By the time I arrived at UGA, there was a lot of diversity within my school and on campus overall. How could it be that it had been within my own lifetime that African American students were even admitted as students there?

It sometimes seems that the beginning of the civil rights movement was a long time ago, but 50 years really isn't that long at all.  When I look around in everyday life, I think we have come a long way, and still have a long way to go in the area of race relations and civil rights. I see way too little diversity and way too much misunderstanding in our society.

I must say that within the social work profession, I see a great deal of diversity, and I see great efforts to move us toward a society in which there is respect for cultural and social diversity, and in which discrimination and exploitation are eliminated. These are part of our professional, ethical mandate to promote social justice and create a society in which basic human needs are met for all people.

What are we doing to go to that next level of true diversity, understanding, and social justice in everyday life?  What more can we do?  When will it be EVERYONE's ethical mandate as a human being?

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