Smith College removes the word 'field' from social work program, citing racist connotations

"SSW's Core Principles encourage us to center the lived and historical experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color."

Joshua Young North Carolina

Smith College, an elite university in Northampton, Massachusetts has announced that they are ending the use of the word "field" in the Smith College School of Social Work because of their commitment to anti-racism.

Fox News reports that the Smith College School of Social Work (SSW) made the announcement via email and said, "We are writing to let you know that, going forward, the Office of Field Education will be renamed the Office of Practicum Learning, in keeping with our values and our commitment to anti-racist work."

"The college's Toward Racial Justice Plan asks us to consider that Smith was not originally designed for the diverse students, staff and faculty that we have now, and calls us to reflect on our past and present to build a more just and inclusive future," the email continued.

According to Mass Live, one student, Aina Endo, said, "I never really saw it that way before. Hearing about it now, I think the word has many different contexts and it’s the way that you use it that matters."

The email said, "SSW's Core Principles encourage us to center the lived and historical experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. We recognize that language is powerful and that phrases such as 'going into the field' or 'field work' may hold negative associations."

The Smith College School of Social Work said they were "committed to developing practicum experiences that embody anti-racist practices" and that their change is designed to "engage in critical reflection and repair."

SSW continued, "We recognize that adopting a new name for our office can be challenging, and we expect this will take some time, but we hope that you'll join us in this effort to be intentional and inclusive and to stay open and actively engage with change. To assist in the transition, we've created a language key you can reference for information."

A spokesperson from the Smith College School of Social Work said that the change is at the moment only being made in the Smith College School of Social Work and is not university wide. 

In a statement to Fox, Smith College Director of Media Relations Carolyn McDaniel said, "Consistent with the guiding principles of the social work profession, Smith College's School for Social Work strives for intentional accountability. Recognizing the power of word choice, the school has changed the name of the Office of Field Education to the Office of Practicum Learning. The school specifically chose the word 'practicum' (a course of study that involves the supervised practical application of previously studied theory) to better reflect the experience of faculty and students. Rather than a reactive moment, this is a proactive decision to bring the language of the school's program more in line with its goals and intentions."

The move follows University of Southern California removing "field work" from its lexicon.

In 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a black teaching assistant at Smith College, falsely accused a working class cafeteria worker of racism after she told her the teaching assistant she was eating in a restricted area.

After an investigation it was revealed Kanoute invented the racism hoax.

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