Masshole Bandwagon effect: Smith College program stops using word ‘field’ over ‘negative associations’ with slavery, because other colleges

Arheel's Uncle

Senior Reporter

Smith College program stops using word ‘field’ over ‘negative associations’​

  • Updated: May. 04, 2023, 5:18 p.m.|
  • Published: May. 03, 2023, 2:02 p.m.
Smith College

Smith College in Northampton, Mass. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican)

Smith College’s graduate School for Social Work will abandon the term “field” — as in “going into the field” or “field work” — from its lexicon, following in the steps of other universities who have claimed the word has connotations to slavery that could be considered offensive.

While “field” can mean an expansive area of land or crops, in academia or the sciences it often describes work done in a real-world environment. A biologist, for instance, may collect field observations on an animal by observing it in its natural habitat.

“We recognize that language is powerful and that phrases such as ‘going into the field’ or ‘field work’ may hold negative associations,” administrators for the School for Social Work said in a message to the school community last week.

A spokesperson for Smith College said updated language policies at other social work programs played a part in the decision of Smith administrators.

In January, when the social work graduate school at the University of Southern California reached a similar decision, USC school officials said “field work” and similar terms “may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign.”

“I never really saw it that way before,” Aina Endo, a member of Smith College’s class of 2025, said when informed of the new language policy on Tuesday. “Hearing about it now, I think the word has many different contexts and it’s the way that you use it that matters.”

“But if it bothers a lot of people it’s important to address,” Endo said.

The policy shift regarding the word “field” was not a reaction to complaints from students, staff or alumni,
but rather “a proactive decision to bring the language of our program more in line with our goals and intentions,” Carolyn McDaniel, Smith’s director of media relations, said in an email to MassLive.

Smith College

Smith College in Northampton, Mass. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican)

Smith, a private liberal arts college in Northampton, boasts one of the nation’s top social work graduate schools. The program ranked 16th in the country last year, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Under the changes announced last week, the School for Social Work will rename its Office of Field Education as the Office of Practicum Learning.

The office helps students navigate the months-long supervised internships that place them in real-world social work environments during their studies, a key part of the School for Social Work curriculum.

The new language policy does not apply to other academic offices or departments outside the School for Social Work, McDaniel said.

A “language key” attached to last week’s announcement included about 15 alternative phrases that avoid the word “field.”

The school will now refer to the “social work field” as the “social work profession.” A “field team” will be called a “practicum learning team” and a “field instructor” will be referred to as a “clinical supervisor.”

“The school intentionally decided to remove the word ‘field’ and specifically chose the word ‘practicum’ (a practical section of a course of study) to better reflect the experience of faculty and students,” McDaniel said by email.

“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 [School for Social Work] community,” the school announcement said. “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.”