Abstract: "They're Not Closing This School, We Won't Let Them" (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

528P "They're Not Closing This School, We Won't Let Them"

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kevin Miller, MA, Assistant Professor, Dominican University, River Forest, IL
Background and Purpose: This autoethnography details the story of my personal experience in the field as a social work MSW and Ph.D. student, working as the facilitator of a human rights-based out-of-school program at a high school in Chicago set for permanent closure in a structurally oppressed community, and my journey to the realization that I was witnessing genocide in the form of structural violence, as defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). One purpose in writing this narrative is to provide a social and cultural context to the ubiquity of structurally violent policies, such as closing public schools. This autoethnography testifies to the wealth of strengths that youth possess to resist even the most severe human rights abuses. I also write to show the inextricable political link between individuals and societal structures and systems.

Methods: It is important to provide a corrective narrative about youth of color living in structurally marginalized communities, because so much of what is said about these youth is distorted. I chose to present this narrative in the form of an autoethnography because this method allows me to discuss a multifaceted construct such as structural violence in a highly contextualized way not available in other research methods. One of the advantages of writing an autoethnography is that there is no pretense of neutrality: it is my “interpretation of an interpreted experience” (Witken, p. 11, 2014). This narrative is based on my ethnographic field notes and memos, across the span of 18 months while I was an MSW intern.

Results: I argue that we can see We Charge Genocide’s foundational argument, that the intricate structure of society’s institutions enforces an oppression that guarantees profit, in the contemporary closure of public schools across the US. The youth and their community resisted the structurally violent closure of their school through a series of community-led protests and demonstrations including, a youth led-walkout of class, marches on the mayor’s house and Chicago Public Schools headquarters, and appearances in media interviews. Ultimately, this resulted in the district delaying their school’s closure until current students graduate. I discovered that this community understand schools to be more than a building in which to receive education—they are cultural hubs that also provides the means to attain necessary human rights that all people are entitled to.

Conclusions and Implications: Approaching a systemic problem like structural violence can seem daunting because its root causes are multifaceted. It is therefore difficult to identify one broad-sweeping solution for such a problem. While it is tempting to create a blueprint of policy recommendations, I will instead discuss specific recommendations that focus on facets of structural violence experienced by the youth in my narrative. As I reflect on the genocidal conditions I witnessed, I will at the same time critically consider the profession of social work’s role in responding to structural violence, as well as the great potential that our profession has to meaningfully address crises like these.