Millie M. Charles, Dean Emeritus
Millie McClelland Charles has greatly impacted the field of health and mental health through her leadership. As a graduate of Dillard University and the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, Dean Charles has dedicated her career to advocating for those who could not do for themselves. Her commitment to social work education is evident by her advocacy to establish a nationwide bachelor of social work degree (BSW) in the early 1970s and her contributions as a Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation reviewer. She also is a founding member of the New Orleans Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers.
The founding of Southern University in New Orleans (SUNO) in 1956 was a highly political event that took place at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, reportedly to discourage black students from attending the predominately-white University of New Orleans, which is located less than a mile away from the SUNO campus.
Millie Charles’ ability in ultimately taking the handful of social work courses taught at the University of New Orleans, which were transferred to the Southern University of New Orleans, and subsequently expanding and developing them into fully accredited BSW and MSW programs are considered somewhat of a miracle in New Orleans. The high caliber programs have attracted a cadre of credentialed and culturally diverse faculty, as well as a diverse and integrated student population.
Dean Charles has dedicated her career to empowering and transforming students at the micro, mezzo and macro levels of social work practice. Her interests in social work education go far beyond just working in the State of Louisiana. She has served as the co-chair of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) annual meeting; a member of the CSWE Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum Standards; and a site visitor for the CSWE Accreditation Commission. Since 1972 she has consulted with numerous undergraduate and graduate social work programs around the U.S., advising them on curricula.
She has received numerous awards, such as the National Association of Social Worker (NRSW) of the Year in 1975; Humanitarian of the Year, Federal Women Employees Association, 1975; Founders Award, New Orleans Chapter of National Association of Black Social Workers, 1979; and Doctor of Humane Letters, Dillard University, 1993. She also was one of four women honored by the New Orleans YWCA for a lifetime of service to the community. Dean Charles was hailed as a lifelong crusader for equality when she was presented with The Times-Picayune Loving Cup on June 24, 2013. When asked about all her accomplishments, the native of New Orleans’ Central City consistently has said: “Anything I might have accomplished was the result of a group effort.”
THE SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK
Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) is a state-supported college established in 1959 as a branch of the Southern University System. SUNO is a historically Black institution (HBCU) that has a majority of African American enrollment. Southern University at New Orleans is committed to serving all segments of the community and seeks to open a door to broader economic opportunities and other benefits that ensue.
The undergraduate social work program began in 1965 as a minor sequence within the Sociology Department. A social welfare department was created in 1972 to administer the newly established BSW program. The BSW program has been accredited since 1974. The outstanding reputation demonstrated competence, and the accredited status of the SUNO BSW program was influencing factors in the decision to develop the SUNO MSW program.
In 1974, the United States, through its attorney general, filed a suit alleging that Louisiana, among nine southern states, established and maintained a racially dual system of public higher education in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1954. It was further alleged "the defendant had failed to develop and implement detailed plans which promised to realistically and promptly eliminate all vestiges of a dual system of higher education existing within the State of Louisiana. The suit was formally settled in 1981 with the signing of the Consent Decree by a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Under the Consent Decree, Southern University at New Orleans, as a part of the Southern University System, was to develop a master of the social work program.
In July 1982, a School of Social Work was established by the Southern University Board of Supervisors to house the existing undergraduate and proposed graduate program, and Millie M. Charles was appointed as the Dean of the School. The MSW program began in the Fall of 1983 with an enrollment of 24 students. In compliance with the intent of the Consent Decree to increase "other race" enrollment on each of the public university campuses, it was intended that the student body of the MSW program would be racially mixed.
The graduate social work program at SUNO is responsive to social service personnel needs in the public sector for BSW generalists and MSW social workers in specialized areas such as children, youth, family’s services, health/mental health, and middle management positions. With the shift of responsibility for meeting social service needs from the federal to state and local government, it is anticipated that graduates of this program will be able to avail themselves of expanded work opportunities within the state and municipal systems.