School at Smith College ends use of word ‘field,’ says it has negative connotations with racism, slavery

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 05-04-2023 3:23 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Smith College School of Social Work will no longer use “field” in reference to any aspect of its program, a word the school says may have negative connotations with racism and slavery.

In an email last week, School of Social Work faculty members Katya Cerar, Arianne Napier-White and Marybeth Stratton said the change reflected the school’s stated core principles that call for centering the lived experiences of marginalized communities, among other things.

“We recognize that language is powerful and that phrases such as ‘going into the field’ or ‘fieldwork’ may hold negative associations,” the email said. “While this change may seem small, it is an action among many others, to keep us accountable to our values, to our students and to our Smith SSW community.”

As part of the language changes, most titles at the School of Social Work that contain the word “field,” such as field team or field education, have been altered with the Latin word practicum. Field instructors are now clinical supervisors. It also advises replacing the term “into the field” with “in the internship experience” and the “social work field” as “social work profession.”

Carolyn McDaniel, a spokesperson for Smith College, said in a statement that the change is consistent with the program’s principles of intentional accountability. She also said the change would only apply to the School of Social Work, and not anywhere else on campus.

“The school specifically chose the word ‘practicum’ (a course of study that involves the supervised practical application of previously studied theory) to better reflect the experience of faculty and students,” McDaniel said. “Rather than a reactive moment, this is a proactive decision to bring the language of the school’s program more in line with its goals and intentions.”

The Smith program isn’t the first one across the country to adopt the measure. Earlier in the year, the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work also announced it would stop using the word “field.”

In July of 2020, Smith College launched Toward Racial Justice, a plan to address historical inequalities at the institution and improve diversity efforts and representation. The School of Social Work faculty members cited the plan as part of its reasoning behind the change of wordage. “We recognize that adopting a new name for our office can be challenging, and we expect this will take some time, but we hope that you’ll join us in this effort to be intentional and inclusive and to stay open and actively engage with change,” they wrote.

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Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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