Speaking Up at the Table: Facilitating Organizational Change Through the Committee for Cultural Diversity and Inclusion at Duke University – An Interview with Quinton Smith
Quinton Smith, MSW, is an Associate in Research at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. In this position, he acts as the Diversity & Inclusion Fellow. Quinton met with Dr. Marie Weil, Professor Emeritus, this past summer to share his journey and experience as a macro social worker. Highlights from that conversation are shared below.
Journey into Social Work Practice
Quinton attended UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, graduating in 2016 with an MSW, specializing in Community Management and Policy Practice. Quinton had not always been involved in social work. Before his time at Carolina, he explained that he had many unconventional jobs over the years – from janitor to bouncer, supermarket cashier to prison officer, mental health case manager to director for CQI at a mental health agency, and a professional photographer. His social work studies led him to find his passion for equity, race, and identity. Through his education, he found his true calling.
Quinton found his way to Duke University as the Committee on Diversity & Inclusion’s Fellow through a colleague in his MSW cohort. He shared that she found out about the full-time fellow position and shared it with him. “I was always the most outspoken person [in class] whenever there was an issue of equity, oppression, or race; I was always the one to speak out, and so she thought it was perfect for me.” Quinton applied to the position and was hired. He continues his work there part-time as he pursues his PhD back at the UNC School of Social Work.
The Work of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion
Quinton had the opportunity and the challenge to develop his new role at Duke University. This was no small task as no such role had existed prior to his appointment. There was no one to talk to him about how things should work. He took over reins of a group of people and tried to make their ideas come to life. “I had to hit the ground and just run as soon as I got there.” Quinton familiarized himself with how Duke handled hate and violence in the past and then talked to community members, students, staff, and faculty to get a sense of what they wanted to see happen.
Quinton has engaged in a wide variety of projects over the past two years. He spearheads efforts to shift the social and academic climate to create the conditions for greater equity for all people. The school is actively recruiting staff, faculty, and students from diverse backgrounds, making the community more representative. As such, he works closely with the dean, staff, faculty and students by coordinating many events to further goals of cultural diversity and inclusion. Events include lectures, workshops, trainings, panel discussions, townhalls, community meetings and cultural events. Essentially, he strives to creates safe spaces outside the classroom to talk, learn, and process issues and link them back to policy and institutional change. His work varies by necessity, and it is a byproduct of the field itself. “We have to be able to change at a moment’s notice based on the climate in the country.”
Interested parties at the university are also coming together create a task force on the intersection of free speech, academic freedom, and hate speech on college campuses, which is a hot button issue at this time. By using research and writing, the team hopes to provide the leadership with recommendations for how the university can move forward in this area. Additionally, Quinton is working with Vice Provost for the Office of Faculty Advancement to create new training and development modules for faculty on best practices for classroom management, new hire searches and recruitment, and mentoring.
Quinton has had a unique opportunity to coordinate with organizations and people all across Duke to combat intolerance that he would not have access to otherwise. “I find myself sitting at the table with presidents, vice presidents, and provosts…the people who make foundational decisions for the university, and I have their ear.”
Training and Education
Quinton credits his experience at the School of Social Work with preparing him well for his current professional role at Duke. He shared that the social work program had given him an opportunity to dive into issues of race, identity, group dynamics, and more. He also learned intervention skills, group communication skills, and how to deal with trauma as part of his training. These were all fundamental tools needed for the work he does now.
As a student, Quinton was a part of a group of students, staff and faculty who discussed incidents of hate and bias, and how the university responded to national level incidents and if/how the SSW should respond. Quinton was also a research assistant for Dr. Paul Lanier for two years, where he developed skills in conducting interviews and surveys that provide value to his work now.
Quinton was also able to take classes that touched on social justice and racial equity as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. One that stood out to him, which he considers life altering, was the “History of Oppression” course with Dr. Carlton-La Ney. Her course “was the spark that made me understand that this is really want I wanted to do with my life.” He also credited the introductory courses taken with Dr. Travis Albritton that helped students process and bridge hard topics in an open, safe, and knowledgeable environment. Lastly, he talked about a graduate seminar in the sociology department called Ethno-Raciality and Orders in the West, which has informed much of his work now.
Recommendations for Current and Future MSW Students
Quintin ends his interview with Dr. Weil with recommendations for current and future MSW students. He urged students to take advantage of the wealth of resources here at UNC SSW, including but not limited to the faculty experts and library. “If you find a faculty member doing work you’re interested in, if you reach out, they will get back to you.”
Lastly, in a paraphrase of Dr. Albritton, Quintin underscored, “don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. If we were comfortable all the time, there’d be no change… as long as we are not afraid to be uncomfortable, we can grow and change.”