Student-Led Conference Confronts Institutional Racism through Truth-Telling

Alumni; Community Engagement; Diversity; Faculty; Students

The Brown School’s Black Student Union and Diversity Committee honored Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a half-day conference, From MLK to Mizzou: A Legacy of Truth-Telling.

The powerful, experiential event was guided by the insight and vision of a group of student leaders and activists: April Napier, MSW candidate ’16; Nesley Bravo, MSW candidate ’16; Rachel Sacks, MSW candidate ’16; and Lexie Walsh, MSW candidate ’17.

Using a truth and reconciliation framework, they developed a set of workshops to deepen the attendees’ understanding of and empathy for African-American students’ lived experiences.

“African-American students are regularly harmed by the impact of institutional racism, and this event created a venue for them to speak their truths, and for the community to hear and acknowledge the harm that has been and continues to be inflicted,” said Tonya Edmond, associate professor and associate dean for diversity at the Brown School, who participated in the conference.

“As social workers and public health practitioners interested in facilitating change, we also wanted to create opportunities to strengthen dialogue skills, build community, identify targets and strategies for change, and foster collaborative action,” Edmond said.

More than 60 Washington University undergraduate and graduate students participated in the conference, which included a mix of panel discussions, break-out sessions and presentations.

The community partners who facilitated throughout the day were Vincent Flewellen, MSW ’05, diversity consultant and Brown School adjunct faculty; Amy Hunter from the YWCA Anti-Racism Program; Reena Hajat, MSW ’05, and Kenneth Pruitt of Diversity Awareness Partnership; and De Nichols, MSW ’14, and Cambrie Nelson of United Stories. Flewellen, Hajat and Nichols are Brown School alumni.

“It was important for our current student leaders to see our alumni who are now community leaders,” Edmond said. “They demonstrate through action how you can make a successful career path of engaging in work to dismantle institutional racism.”