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Part 1: CRT is Under Attack, So Why Are We Still Here?

2022 CRSSW Steering Committee Retreat

By Brie and Brittany

May 2023


The CRRSSW (pronounced CRIS-DUB) Steering Committee gathered for a retreat in June 2022, to discuss the collective's future and address pressing issues regarding its place in the field of social work. The retreat took place against the background of an assault on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and targeted attacks against CRT scholars.

Two Masters level students agreed to participate in the retreat as notetakers. We realized they played a larger role beyond note-takers. They provided us the opportunity to document the contentious CRT climate scholars were grappling with and, most importantly, the realization that answers are oftentimes elusive. Still, solidarity was the one thing we could offer each other.

We have split the observations into two parts. Please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below. Here we go...

Photo from Pexel

We, Brie and Brittany, accepted the invitation to be notetakers for the inaugural Critical Race Scholars in Social Work (CRSSW) organizational retreat with mixed emotions. The retreat was hosted virtually on June 20, 2022.

We are graduate students pursuing our Masters degree in social work from California State University Dominguez Hills. Although this program's foundation is in Critical Race Theory (CRT), we both feel like novices in this framework. While excited at the prospects of what we can gain from being in the room with leading CRT social work pioneers, we were also managing our worries about not being qualified to be in the room -- much less to accurately capture people's thoughts, stories, and be able to provide an eloquent summary of the meeting.

As we logged onto the Zoom call, we felt a rush of nerves surge through our bodies. We anticipated being able to sneak into the Zoom room and quietly take notes. However, as soon as we arrived, the CRSSW steering committee stopped the meeting to greet us. "Tell everyone a little bit about yourself!" Our minds went blank for a moment, "Um, who am I?" We frantically searched our brains for some information these people may be interested in knowing about us. After the awkward introduction, the chat lit up with warm welcomes and thanks, and the person in charge said she sent us an e-gift card to order lunch [let's take a moment to appreciate one of the best gifts to offer college students -- our Chipotle never tasted better. Now back to the retreat].

"We wish they [CRSSW Steering Committee] had provided us with a definitive solution that we could use to guide our own lives, yet there is tremendous beauty in the openness to accept ambiguity."

We were surprised by everyone's friendly demeanor -- we never saw that many warm, smiling faces at a Zoom meeting before. The intentionality of the group to make us feel welcomed, wanted, and valued was unexpected and a shift from the cultural norm of status equating to importance. After experiencing our relief of no longer needing to talk, we noticed the initial nervousness went away a little bit. We think it was because of that cultural shift and how that continued to play out for the rest of the meeting.

That day, we entered a reasonably intimate Zoom room full of scholars with diverse stories and experiences. We could immediately sense the common connection of passion and dedication each scholar had to advance CRT in the field, their institutions, and beyond. The meeting brought together eleven CRSSW steering committee members from across the US to build community and grapple with the important questions currently facing CRSSW– who are we as an organization? And, in the context of our organizational identity, what does/should membership entail? There were authentic conversations about the struggle for activism and sacred space. They reflected on the diverse anti-oppressive work that this organization is engaged in through the collective members and contemplated if activism should have an elevated space in the organization. It was encouraging for us to hear the members at the retreat share their visions for this organization with words like resistance, hope, counter-storytelling, camaraderie, and anti-oppression buzzing in the Zoom space we occupied.

"We were reminded of the conflict inside as we saw this group shift its focus between action and sacred space. The fact that experts in the area were struggling with it, too, gave us confidence that we weren't alone. It gave us hope for the potential outcomes of their investigation. It's sad and lovely that they never resolved their differences."

As they toggled between prioritizing activism or sacred space within this organization, we were reminded of that internal struggle we have within ourselves. There was something about leaders in this field grappling with it on a larger scale that made us feel validated. It also made us hopeful for what conclusions they may arrive at. They never actually arrived at a conclusion, which is both unfortunate and beautiful. We wish we had a clearly defined answer outlined by them to follow in our own lives, but there is a profound beauty in the honesty of the continued uncertainty and space to tolerate the unknown.

Embedded in each member's answer to the question, "What does the work (CRT, CRSSW) mean to you?" was their individual journey with issues of race and, ultimately, an experience that led them to learn and live out CRT's values. As we listened, we noticed themes start to emerge. For many members, CRT was a framework that provided a language. Indeed, CRT gives us words to understand not only racism but our lived experience. Understanding and synthesizing one's story in the context of these oppressive systems is also a form of voice finding– a direct antidote to the silencing of marginalized voices. As each member shared their counter-narrative, we realized they embodied what CRT can look like in practice. This was our favorite part of the meeting.

Curious schoolboy looking through magnifier at camera in room.
Photo by Monstera from Pexel

Stay tuned next month for part 2 of our blog post, where we share our key takeaways!

In the meantime, please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below. What does CRT mean to you?


Brie and Brittany

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