Racist Incident at NYU Silver School of Social Work

By Christopher Longo

Screenshot of email with text highlighted "Although, certainly it was also because I found it easier to lead the discussion without black presence in the room, since I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with the (perceived) threat that it poses"

Screenshot of an email received by a black student at NYU's Silver School of Social Work. He was going to have to miss class and had obtained permission from the professor to FaceTime into the class. After his classmates ignored his request to participate, one of them sent the student this email. More details of the incident.

My name is Chris Longo and I am a gender equity intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office as well as a Master’s of Social Work student at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work (NYU Silver), where I focus on policy and advocacy.

As you are undoubtedly aware, the UU-UNO works to bring the principles of Unitarian Universalism to the global stage. All of the interns in our office hail from prestigious universities in New York City including Fordham, Columbia, and NYU, where we all are attaining a master’s-level education in social work, a field with a mission and values that mirror the progressive ideology of Unitarian Universalist principles.

Recently, NYU Silver experienced an incident of overt racism in which one student informed another via email that it was easier to navigate a class discussion without the perceived threat of black presence.

This incident is inexcusable on the face of it, but it also reflects a systemic problem. This is not the first incident of overt racism to occur in classrooms in our most egalitarian spaces, it is simply the most recent instance to gain national social media attention. In the past week, students have begun reporting dozens of micro-aggressions and overt instances of racism in our classrooms. Since this incident, white students and professors have engaged in various forms of gaslighting of students of color and have made excuses for overt and subtle racism, the Washington Post and other major news outlets have reached out for comment, and the administration has put out various responses and workshops that seem placating and minimizing.

From this, students have begun mobilizing and organizing around the institutional racism of the program through unity, protest, media commentary, collective responses, and student-led meetings. This incident has reached well beyond NYU and has been discussed in classrooms in Columbia’s and Fordham’s social work programs as well.

As a UU-UNO intern from the NYU Silver School of Social Work, I wanted to take this opportunity to bring you all into the fold and let you know what you can do to help.

An Affinity Group Collective Response was sent to the school within 24 hours of the incident coming to light and has been receiving attention. This letter was originally penned by myself as a co-leader of a student group titled White Students Challenging Racism, and it was edited by various other student leaders before being signed and distributed to the collective student body. We invite you to read the response and sign it if you agree with its message.

Additionally, you can feel free to reach out to the school to express your opposition to the racist incident as well as to the systemic nature of racism and/or the inappropriate responses from white students and faculty members who have engaged in white apologism and gaslighting of students of color. This can be done either via mail (perhaps a letter campaign) or via phone.

Contact information:

ATTENTION: Dean Neil B. Guterman​
Silver School of Social Work
Ehrenkranz Center
1 Washington Square North
New York, NY 10003

Phone numbers:
Dean Neil B. Guterman – (212) 998 – 5959
Dr. James Martin, Associate Dean – (212) 998 – 5925

This incident and the movement around it are important to communicate to Unitarian Universalist congregations. The necessary reckoning taking place right now at NYU’s school of Social Work echoes those within the Unitarian Universalist denomination and within the nation as a whole. As progressive institutions, we must be honest and open in confronting the power structures and norms that perpetuate intolerance and bigotry.

Our responsibilities within the UU United Nations Office extend far beyond that global diplomatic body. In the spirit of the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) all of our institutions must be transformed towards justice. As interns of the UU-UNO, our focus is to make this a reality not just inside the United Nations and within Unitarian Universalist communities, but in the larger world as well, such as our schools and government.

An article from Inside Higher Ed gives a more detailed account of the incident.

Again, please take a brief minute to sign the student collective response!

About the Author

Christopher Longo

Christopher Longo is a gender equity intern at the UU-UNO and a Master of Social Work graduate student at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, where he focuses on policy and advocacy. Chris is a co-leader of the student group White Students Challenging Racism and co-founder and...


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