We Deserve to Thrive

Transforming the Social Work Academy to Better Support Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color (BIPOC) Doctoral Students


  • María Gandarilla Ocampo Washinton University in St. Louis, Brown School of Social Work
  • Autumn Asher BlackDeer Washington University in St. Louis, Brown School of Social Work




anti-racism, BIPOC, doctoral education, social work education


The summer of 2020 saw a racial justice awakening among predominantly white scholars. While this “awakening” or reckoning regarding the long-standing racism in society is welcomed and necessary, we must recognize the stark differences in how this work is felt and ultimately in how the work needs to be done by different groups in society. While BIPOC scholars worked to balance the need to process and recover, self-preserve, and advocate, white peers formed book clubs and posted black squares to their social media sites. This distinction describes the frustrating reality that many BIPOC scholars experience in the work of undoing racism. We bear the unrelenting burdens of being oppressed, fighting racism, and trying to survive in a society that does not value our inherent dignity and worth. For BIPOC doctoral students who simultaneously navigate the roles of being a student, peer, and instructor, these burdens are threefold. We are expected to do the invisible work of mentoring and holding space for fellow BIPOC students while also educating white students and faculty/administrators on racial justice issues and contending with faculty expectations. These burdens are exacerbated as we see anti-racism quickly go in vogue and then fall out of favor soon after. The aftermath: unfulfilled promises and commitments by self-proclaimed anti-racists, leaving BIPOC scholars to pick up the pieces and solely shoulder the never-ending work of anti-racism. There is a continued lack of sustained commitment to achieving racial equity across the board. The steps that have been taken are often characterized by quick fixes that fall short of the real work that will lead to a racially just, equitable and inclusive community. The purpose of this paper is to bring attention to the challenges within the academy experienced by BIPOC social work doctoral students. Drawing upon our experience with creating a BIPOC-centered support group at a predominantly white institution (PWI), we provide insight and recommendations on how colleagues and administrators alike can take action to hold space, bolster, and better support BIPOC doctoral student scholars by creating inclusive educational environments, offering tailored, concrete, and formal supports, and ultimately creating an anti-racist academic culture free from all forms of oppression.


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