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80 Years of Social Work Education at Howard University

As early as 1920, there was a stated interest to have social work education at Howard University. In 1930-31, Lucy Diggs Slowe, Dean of Women at Howard University, advocated for the inclusion of social work education at Howard and indicated that there were 30 women students desirous of becoming social workers.

In 1935, under the leadership of Dr. E. Franklin Frazier, chairman of the sociology department, social work courses were started in the Department of Sociology. Early faculty members included Ophelia Settle Egypt and Mary Huff Diggs, both having earned MSW degrees. In 1939, a Division of Social Work was created, and Dr. Inabel Burns Lindsay was appointed as acting director. Upon the resignation of Dr. E. Franklin Frazier from the Division of Social Work in 1942, she was appointed as director. Johnson Hall was the location of the new program.

Between 1941 and 1945, students received Certificates in Social Work.

The School of Social Work became an autonomous unit under the leadership of founding dean, Inabel Burns Lindsay. Dean Lindsay earned a doctorate degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1952. She was one of the rst two women to earn a doctorate from this university. In addition to the challenges of equality facing African Americans, Dr. Lindsay also had to carry the added burden of being the only female academic dean during her entire tenure at the University. During her sabbatical leave, Professor Ira Gibbons assumed the role of acting dean.

Through this historical period, student enrollment was stimulated by the G.I. Bill of Rights that provided educational opportunities.

Also, this period ended with the historic Brown v. Board of Education court case that made segregation in public schools unconstitutional. This ruling was a fitting end to the second decade in the life of the School.

The School relocated from Johnson Hall to a new location that remained home for social work for 18 years.

The Civil Rights Movement called attention to the needs of disadvantaged persons and both faculty and students became clarion voices for change. The dean led initiatives around anti-poverty programs and partnered with organizations such as the United Planning Organization (UPO), a community action agency. The curriculum was changed in response to the new Council on Social Work Education policy statement that emphasized the goals of social work.

During this period, seven different social work organizations merged to form the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Mark Battle, who was recruited by Dr. Lindsay to the faculty of the School of Social Work, became the first African American Executive Director of NASW. Today, our alumnus, Dr. Darrell Wheeler, is the President of this organization.

During this time, Dr. Lindsay took her second sabbatical leave and Professor Ira Gibbons again served as acting dean.

Dean Inabel Burns Lindsay was appointed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson to the White House Conference, “To Fulfill these Rights.” The War on Poverty provided new opportunities for social workers to start various organizations. During the 1967 centennial celebration of the University, the focus of the School was “Social Welfare and the Advancement of Human Dignity in a Changing Society.” In 1967, Dr. Inabel Burns Lindsay retired after 30 years of service.

Dr. Mary Ella Robertson was appointed the second dean of the School and served from 1967 to 1969. During this ten year period, there were seven deans (Dr. Lindsay, Dr. Robertson, Dr. Gibbons (acting), Dr. Haskins (acting), Dr. Glasgow, Dr. Wallace (acting), and Dr. Chunn). It was during this time that the Black Perspective was developed and integrated into the curriculum.

Dr. Andrew Billingsley played a major role in assisting with developing a viable curriculum that incorporated the University’s new mission— The Black Perspective.

During this period, the New Educational Thrust (NET) was developed to better effectuate the mission of the university, along with other innovations and changes to reflect student demands and a revitalized curriculum.

Under the leadership of Dr. Jay Chunn, II, a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree and a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree were established. In May 1980, there were seven BSW and one DSW graduates. The Advanced Standing Program was also added during this period. 

Additionally, the international footprint was expanded during this timeframe with a focus on the continent of Africa and other developing countries. Dr. Harriette McAdoo succeeded Dean Chunn in 1984, and served as acting dean through June 1985.

Dr. Richard A. English was appointed dean in July 1985 and served for 18 years. To date, he has had the second longest term as dean of the School. Under his leadership, the six principles of the Black Perspective were codified: affirmation, strengths, diversity, vivification, social justice and internationalization. Additionally, he invested in technology for the School. The School of Social Work building was renamed to honor Dr. Inabel Burns Lindsay. The current Founders’ Fellowship in Graduate Social Work Education was endowed by William and Camille H. Cosby in 1991 and provides a substantial annual scholarship to an outstanding MSW student, as well as supports faculty scholars. Today, there are over 20 MSW fellows and five faculty scholars. The BSW program was phased out in 1993 to allow more attention to graduate education and research.

The Multidisciplinary Gerontology Center was established in 1992 and continues to provide a resource to the aging community in Washington, DC and the metropolitan area.

The E. Franklin Frazier Center for Social Work Research was established in 2000. Also, formal relationships were started with universities in Cape Town, South Africa. The Board of Trustees transformed the DSW degree to the current Ph.D. in Social Work (1996). This period provided an increased focus on research and community based partnerships. The Baker’s Dozen Community Resource and Research Center was revitalized. Welfare reform and violence against women were prominent areas of research stimulated by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996) and the Violence Against Women’s Act (1994). During this period, the School of Social Work emerged as a leader at the University in the integration of technology into teaching and practice. This included the offering of online and hybrid courses for MSW and doctoral students.

Dr. Cudore L. Snell assumed interim leadership of the School upon the promotion of Dr. English to Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

In 2011, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of social work education at Howard University with a conference and gala under the leadership of Dr. Ruby Gourdine, chair, and Dr. Dorothy Pearson, honorary chairwoman. The conference, “Advocating for Social Change—Our Legacy, Our Future,” attracted alumni from around the globe. Dr. John and Mrs. Barbara Jacob made a $500,000 donation to establish the John and Barbara Jacob Endowed Professor. International service learning was a key focus during this period. Under the leadership of Deans Cudore L. Snell and Sandra Edmonds Crewe, the International Service Learning Program in Cape Town South Africa started in 2010 and has served over 125 students as well as 30 faculty members. Faculty scholarship has continued to be robust with the historic focus on the strengths of Black families as well as contemporary issues such as serving children with disabilities, caregiving across the life span, addressing intimate partner violence, addressing the needs of sexual minorities, ensuring cultural responsiveness, and valuing respect for diverse faiths. In 2012, the HUSSW was accredited through 2020—a record of continuous excellence.

Dr. Cudore Snell ended his decade of leadership and Dr. Sandra Edmonds Crewe was appointed as interim dean in 2013.

Dr. Sandra Edmonds Crewe was appointed as the 12th dean of the School of Social Work in February 2015 by the 17th president of the University, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. The 2014-15 academic year culminated with the School of Social Work hosting the 26th annual Network for Social Work Management conference. This conference, “Impacting Communities and Changing Lives,” was a precursor to our focus on advancing the social justice narrative.

As we move toward reaffirmation in 2020, our focus is on inter-professional educational collaborations. We have been approved for a dual Master of Social Work/Master of Divinity degree and a MSW/MBA degree effective Fall 2017. We also anticipate moving forward with MSW/PHD options, as well as collaborations with undergraduate programs that offer an accelerated pathway to the MSW.

The 80th year brings the richness of the past and the anticipation of the future. We have graduated over 6,000 students and they hold MSW, DSW, BSW and PhD degrees. Dispersed throughout the world, they continue to provide leadership in different fields of practice including: family and child welfare, mental health, health, displaced populations, criminal justice and social gerontology, as practitioners, advocates, scholars and politicians. According to the US News and World Report, we are ranked among the top 16% of accredited social work pro- grams. Today’s Howard-prepared social workers and scholars imagine a world free of poverty and other socio-economic disparities, and are being provided the skills and tools to change the social justice narrative, utilizing the principles of the Howard University Black Perspective that has evolved since our early days of social work education 80 years ago.