NYU Silver School of Social Work Celebrates Its Fiftieth Anniversary

The NYU Silver School of Social Work honored its 50-year history on November 10 with the Fiftieth Anniversary Benefit Celebration. The evening started with a panel discussion on social identity. Afterwards, dinner guests honored Eleanore Z. Korman, former administrator, faculty member, and acting dean; longtime School fundraiser Judy Tobias Davis; and friend Martin Silver.

NYU President John Sexton; Henry Louis Gates Jr., host of the PBS series "Faces of America;" and Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice, participated in the panel discussion, moderated by Dean Lynn Videka. The conversation touched on issues of identity formation in American society, including the factors of race, gender, and religion.

"The problem with identity as we've constructed it is we all have multiple identities," said Gates. Only certain ones are visible to the outside world and may not be most important to the individual.

All participants agreed that celebrating each person's various identities and cutting across barriers are most important. Said Sexton, "Understanding that even though we have these multiple identities, the joy is really seeing the kaleidoscope of the interaction of those identities with others."

Gates stressed the role academics have in identity development. They must teach their students--particularly those who define themselves with ethnic and religious identities--that the most important identity is as a human being and citizen of the world.

When Videka posed a question about working with marginalized students, Gilligan asked, "What is our investment in labeling people? What happens if you start listening and stop labeling people?" She explained that babies are born with a capacity for mutual understanding and empathy--key to the survival of hominids. One factor that erodes this capacity is labeling.

"We can not act as though these identities out there aren't being imposed on us," countered Gates. He said the world is more frightening and brutal. It is crucial that parents build self-esteem and teach their children how to deal with stereotypes.

"There are these barriers and labels and you have to be prepared to know how to right yourself when your head hits up on one of those awful, awful barriers," explained Gates. "And if not, you are going to drown."

Following the conversation, about 250 guests attended a dinner celebrating the School's history. Former Deans Alvin Schorr, Tom Meenaghan, and Suzanne England were in attendance and the audience heard from alumni and University administrators. Harry Smith, co-anchor of the CBS Early Show, served as the dinner emcee. 

The evening raised over $300,000 for the School's 50th Anniversary Scholarship Fund, and was the culmination of a year of special events and lectures in honor of the School's milestone.

Read more about the panel discussion in NYU's student paper, Washington Square News.