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College of Arts and Sciences

Meeting the Moment: Social Work Special Event Highlights BIPOC Life Stories and Inspiration

Juan Rios leads a presentation."Each one of you have a voice, and I encourage you to become community partners," said Juan Rios, DSW, LCSW, assistant professor of Social Work at this spring’s "Meeting the Moment: Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Tech Leader Voices" event. It offered insights, discussions and impactful takeaways on how diverse perspectives drive social change in technology. 

At Bethany Hall, Rios spoke to a large and engaged gathering of students, faculty, administrators and special guests.  He celebrated the fact that there were students from multiple disciplines in the room. "We want to partner with you [and] we want to find ways to engage at lightning speed," he said of different areas of business working together to learn how social work can benefit disparate populations.  

There were representatives from the computer science department, chemical engineering, law, and design students, as well as the expected social work-focused community of students and professors. All were there to explore the intersection of technology and social impact through the powerful medium of storytelling, shared by tech industry leaders. 

Rios highlighted that one aspect of modern social work, especially in the projects he oversees, is "working together to solve problems through an interdisciplinary framework." We cannot, he noted, continue to work in silos. Promising an ecosystem of support to BIPOC students, Rios asked for collaborative input. He went on to introduce the board-certified/facilitator, Dr. Magdala (Maggie) Chery, a board-certified physician and health equity advocate who works for Google and speaks to the intersectionality of medicine, social work and conversation. 

"Will you honor the opportunity to think beyond today?" she asked, proceeding to share her lived experience, cautioning attendees to not be "buckled down by the credentials and degrees one has, mistakenly dismissing the stories of the very people who lead change." Describing the foregoing speakers as storytellers, Dr. Chery set the tone for an evening of social work accounts that were at times moving, powerful and insightful. 

Featured speakers included Jerrel Peterson, director, Spotify; Samuel Bradley, Ph.D., M.S.W., professor of macro social work, equity, justice and inclusion; Elizabeth Amadiz, community enablement manager, Lotic Ai. The program included "TechTalks," lightning talks where the evening’s presenters shared their lived experiences on navigating the journey into tech, and "TechTable," a dialogue about reimagining tech innovation and the intersectionality of social work.

Dr. Chery shared her story of resiliency: becoming a doctor, fulfilling her immigrant parents’ hopes for her, then losing them both within five weeks of each other to COVID-19. At the time, she was at the point of completing her medical residency, and described having a highly traumatic experience that changed her trajectory from medicine to working in equity for Google. "Oftentimes, I would walk into rooms and people wouldn't believe I was a doctor," she shared. "I had a white coat, I had a badge credential with all the letters, and quite often I had to be verified by a white colleague for people to believe that I was a physician."

This happened, she said, in ICU's, even when people were dying, and Dr. Chery was there to give the orders about what to do next. "Someone said, 'Well, I do not trust what you're saying'." Wondering why she was fighting the tide after all her parents had sacrificed coming from Haiti, she took a life-changing trip to South Africa. On her return home, she applied on a whim to a job at Google, wanting to find another way to even the playing field for people of color in the workforce. Dr. Chery got the job and joined the Product Inclusion & Equity team at Google. 

"It’s May 1st of 2020," she remembers. "I have lost both of my parents, as a doctor working for a system who didn't care about my experience… I leaned on my faith, I leaned on my community who came rushing to my aid [when I lost my parents], and if you asked me if ever in my lifetime, I thought I would be working at Google, teaching people about equity and how to build equity by design, I would have said you were crazy." 

Stories like Dr. Chery’s filled the evening, and all speakers had in common their passion for social justice, equity, and inclusion, illuminating for the audience that with hard work and innovation, many things are possible, even when the path is not typical. Their experience of not fitting the mold and defying societal or parental expectations to do something atypical (Samuel Bradley, Ph.D., a professor of social work with a DEI specialty, described going to school for music when his father was a pastor), unified them. 

"We've created a program at Boston College called "The Black Leadership Initiative" where we bring in about 20 MSW students every year, and we teach them about Afrocentric values, the Afrocentric perspective and social work practice," said Dr. Bradley. "This helps educators change their binary thinking about social work, and the students have opportunities to see social work practice as being about culture."

"Meeting the Moment" was hosted by the Master of Social Work and Master of Public Administration programs, and sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, Center of Faculty Development, Buccino Leadership Institute, Office of Graduate Affairs, and Academy of Applied Analytics.

Categories: Campus Life, Education