I am relatively new to St. Louis, just starting my fourth year as dean of the Brown School. I moved here because I was drawn to the professional opportunity of being the dean of an extraordinary school, and even more so, drawn to the St. Louis region. I saw that there were the right ingredients to be a part of making significant and transformative social change.
The first and most important ingredient is the people. There are incredibly talented people in every sector here are deeply committed to the region and unlocking its full potential. It is very exciting to be a part of this interconnected effort. That is so important because to make real progress, we need to be connected to each other as human beings and to an aligned vision of the future.
This is a community that has been defined by structures—not all of them positive. And those structures that are oppressive are visible, not hidden, which means that it is easier to see that they exist, and it is clear that they are unfair and harmful. It is painfully obvious that if you removed or eliminated existing oppressive structures, things would go better for people of color and everyone in St. Louis. Structures based on racism ensure the status quo and keep people in place. They deny people opportunities and threaten lives.
Someone asked me once if anything positive could come out of the tragedy that was Michael Brown’s death. Daily there is loss of life and that is tragic— particularly for communities of African descent; it is discernibly and disproportionate. In St. Louis, Michael Brown’s death reenergized some of the most progressive social and community movements in the country. We are grappling with significant questions: What does racial equity mean? How do you dismantle an oppressive structure? How do you advance a society where outcomes are no longer predicted by race?
The thought leaders, activists, and policymakers in the region are generating incredible energy toward positive social change. That energy holds a promise; we have been honest with ourselves and we are clear on what needs to be done. The Brown School’s students, staff, and faculty are proud and humbled to be engaged in that movement. We need to recognize and own up to the fact that we have not always used our privilege to maximize positive impact for all. We now realize that to address structural racism and oppression in all its forms, we need to do the hard internal and external work in order to make a true difference in our St. Louis community
Sometimes academics can mistakenly think a solution comes from a university exclusively. In fact, real solutions come out of genuine and equitable community collaborations. It is important for anchor institutions, like Washington University in St. Louis, to remember that collaboration is found in listening, in being a good partner, and in aligning your resources with the significant energy and resources of others. Unfortunately, this is a real challenge and we often fall short of that goal. It is hard for institutions and communities to truly collaborate and align. However, it is critical if we are going to see the changes that we want and need to see.
Through the Brown School’s programs in social work, public health, and social policy, we are educating the next generation of change-makers, the majority of whom remain in the region after graduation. Our students and faculty are on the ground, helping in our community. This is our collective commitment: to bring about positive social change through authentic collaboration. I remain confident that I made the right decision to come to St. Louis and deeply grateful to be part of movement toward a more just and equitable society.