“We must summon the courage to have productive conversations about racism in our field. White workers especially need to reflect on the defensiveness we feel when we are confronted with white supremacy culture, and how we benefit from the existence of it in our institutions and our interpersonal conversations. We must create a discipline around self-reflection, increase our stamina for holding discomfort, and continually ask ourselves where we are centering our engagement – is it on the needs of the oppressed or the comfort of those who fear change?” – SWCAREs
In an effort to help facilitate anti-racist, solution focused, and strength based conversation, SWCAREs will be hosting a twitter to chat to discuss white supremacy in social work curriculum. As our guest, we have invited Dr. Elizabeth Beck share her work on the topic. In order to get to know Dr. Beck before our March 5th twitter chat, we asked her to talk a little bit about her article publication and offer a few thoughts related to white supremacy in social work academia in our recent Q&A.
Dr. Elizabeth Beck is a Professor at Georgia State University in the School of Social Work at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. She is a prolific writer, having authored 26 peer-reviewed articles, one law review article, a number of book chapters, and three books. From 2006-2010, she was principal investigator to the Georgia Council to Restorative Justice, and is currently involved in community-based initiatives exploring restorative justice. In addition to her work at Georgia State University, Dr. Beck teaches at Phillips State Prison as a participant in the Common Good Atlanta program.
In her 2019 article in the Journal of Women and Social Work, “Naming White Supremacy in Social Work Curriculum,” Dr. Beck explores postcolonial theory, race, and ethnicity in the context of social work education and practice. She calls on our field to hold ourselves accountable to challenging the destructive qualities of whiteness, and how they show up historically and currently in the field.
Here is our Q&A as follows:
SWCARES: In your article, you call on yourself to challenge the direction of your white gaze and look hard at the hegemonic and destructive qualities of whiteness. Can you say more about that?
Elizabeth Beck: I have remained haunted and deeply motivated by something I read by Philosopher George Yancy in a piece that he wrote that was addressed to white people.
“As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering.” As a human being and a social worker, I have never wanted to cause pain and suffering, and yet Yancy reminds me that I do so daily.
Therefore, it is not enough to own my privilege or to identify as an antiracist who speaks truth to power, I also need to figure out daily how to mitigate my own role in causing pain and suffering. Of course, I don’t come close to having all the answers and indeed I think there needs to be conversations about how we can do this.
But the two things that I try to do are to engage in truthtelling, which means being clear about racial terrorism, the new Jim Crow, the harm of colorblind remedies, and the fact that our nation is based on and in white supremacy.
Secondly, I try to get out of the way. For example, I must work as an antiracist and work hard, but know that the answers and strategies cannot come from me. They must come from those people most affected. I need to support people of color who are doing the work– and that support can take many forms from working alongside individuals and within coalitions or providing a hot meal when a rest is needed. I also work to share or pass on opportunities that are offered to me in part because of the privilege that I have receive as a white person, and I must hold myself accountable.
SWCARES: Can you speak about the need for whiteness and white logic to exist in social work curriculum, and the impact of their absence currently?
Elizabeth Beck: The academy and the professionalized nature of social work are sites of whiteness and privilege. The knowledge that comes out of the academy is largely going to reflect that, while a paucity of literature will critique and confront it. In social work we have to look hard to find those critiques, and there are a number of treasured pieces out there. Social Work is also in an unique position within the white academy, as we want to be seen as a discipline that has scientific rigor, that oversees credentialing, and that is not marginalized within the academy or scientific community. Rather than finding our own unique positionality in which affected people are expert, we emulate positivism and gatekeeping, both of which align us with whiteness and white logics.
But, we also need to look more critically at the foundational aspects of social work and social work education. For example, we tend to acknowledge the whiteness of the Settlement House Movement, and yet we often hold it up as milestone in the profession’s move toward social justice. This of course then holds implications for the impact of whiteness in the way in which social works constructs and understands social justice. I believe that we need to evolve our understanding of social justice and we must highlight Black and Brown women, men, transgender and non-binary people who changed the world, such as Ida B. Wells, A. Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and many more.
In addition to Kimberle Crenshaw, we need to know the other women who helped to theorize intersectionality, such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and members of the Combahee River Collective. With these voices not prominent in the curriculum it is not surprising that scholar Gita Mehrotra notes that in social work, intersectionality is associated with multiculturalism, when indeed intersectionality, which is largely theorized by queer women of color, is also political movement driven from an intersectional analysis of power. An analysis in which those individuals whose lives are “on the margins”/most affected hold the necessary analytical information for transformative solutions.
An additional marker of whiteness for me has been in the language of things like “cultural competency,” (a dreadful idea, that states that I am the norm and you are other thus I need to be competent in you, thereby further enshrining whiteness) or the reliance on acceptable and non-political words like diversity. While we know that diversity is an important goal, journalist Pamela Newkirk, in her book Diversity Inc.: The failed promise of a billion dollar industry, makes clear that without truth telling about systemic racism, ideas that sound accommodating like diversity do not accomplish the goals that they seek.
SWCARE: How do you see this work translating into the classroom? Where does an analysis of theprocesses of domination belong in our instruction and what would it look like?
Elizabeth Beck: As a white social work educator, the first thing I need to do is model antiracism, truth telling, the ability to defer to people of color, and not engage in any sort of fragility. It’s difficult to say where an analysis of processes of domination belongs in instruction, as the ideal would be infusion throughout the curriculum, but then infusion can lead to it being overlooked.
Toward infusing ideas associated with processes of domination and systemic racism, our faculty has tried to do things a bit differently, as we work together to find the space for things like critical theory in our program. With some discussion of critical theory we hope to provide students with the ability to deconstruct knowledge rather than just accept the knowledge derived from white methods and logics. We also hope to offer opportunities for critical consciousness. All of our MSW students read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I fully agree with Paulo Freire that once you see the truth you are compelled to change things. Certainly, that is what George Yancy did for me.
SWCARES: What does this work look like in the institutions of academia? How does this translate to admissions offices, field placements, and faculty meetings?
Elizabeth Beck: I am not an administrator nor do I coordinate or even oversee field placements, in that way I am not the expert. I am additionally different because our MSW program is a macro based program which means that we tend to attract students who want to be on the cutting edge of social justice work, and that this desire often comes from their understanding of inequality. With that said I do have some thoughts. I think one important aspect of social work admissions is that it places emphasis on people’s histories, stories and experiences. My university is a leading institution in the graduation of minority and first generation college students.
We have a wonderful program that provides emergency grants for students in a financial crisis. This program can be emulated. We must also work hard to ensure supports for first generation college students and those on the academic margins. Mostly we must advocate for policies that make higher education far more accessible to include much more public financing. We must ensure that faculty meetings and committee assignments are equitable and that we have fairness in salaries. I have always been proud that our faculty protects the time of assistant professors. I also believe that faculty meetings can be places where we explore the use of language like white supremacy and challenge ideas of white fragility.
Join @SWHELPERorg and @SWCARES on March 5th at 1:00 PM EST using the hashtag #SWCARESchat to discuss white supremacy in social work curriculum.
Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom
Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.
How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning
“Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:
- What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
- What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
- How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
- What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?
After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.
Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.
Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.
Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.
Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.
New Preschool Program in Oregon is a Model for the Nation—But Challenges Remain
In November 2020, voters in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, resoundingly approved the creation of a new, universal preschool program—a program that could serve as a model for desperately needed preschool and childcare investments for the entire country. All three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah county will be able to attend a free, year-round, universal, high quality preschool program that meets their needs as well as those of most families, providers and staff, and local businesses. Key elements include a wide range of choices for families as well as living wages and professional supports for providers and workers. The program is slated to be equitably funded by a local income tax on the highest income households.
Two big challenges remain: ensuring that families with “non-traditional” work schedules are included, and significantly increasing public investment in facilities to allow preschools to expand well beyond church basements and providers’ homes. Those working non-traditional hours are disproportionately low-income, women, people of color, and often “essential workers” without whom our society and economy would not function. Federal childcare initiatives must address the needs of families with such work schedules, or the families that most need public child care will be left out.
A Universal Model that Serves Diverse Needs
Universal preschool programs benefit all children and lead to better outcomes than means-tested programs for the most disadvantaged children. Means-tested programs such as Head Start seek to deliver services only to households with low incomes. Although means-tested programs “target the poor,” universal programs bring children and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum together, challenging ongoing race, ethnic and class segregation that erodes democracy. Universality also inspires broad support to maintain adequate funding. After fifty well-regarded years, Head Start is still available—but only for a fraction of eligible families, and even then, often only part-time and part-year. High quality preschool and child care is out of reach for the large majority of families who already face the high cost of housing, health care, and student debt with stagnating wages. Importantly, universal preschool is both a two-generation anti-poverty program and a powerful boost to economic development, because it returns $9.45 to the community for every dollar spent.
Families raising young children are diverse and need a wide range of options. Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will offer choices of:
- language and cultural contexts, including Afro-centric and other alternatives,
- types of setting, including family childcare providers, public schools and free-standing centers, and
- schedules, including school year and year-round, full and part-time, weekend days as well as week days, with up to 50 hours a week for families that need or want longer days
Children with disabilities will be included, facilitating earlier identification of health issues and treatment. Expulsions, now too common in preschool settings particularly for children of color, will be prohibited, requiring that the system provide supportive interventions to meet all children’s needs.
Fair Pay and Professional Support for Providers and Workers
Currently, U.S. family childcare providers, preschool teachers, and childcare workers earn poverty wages with few benefits and often cope with difficult working conditions. The result is high turnover; the loss of skilled, experienced and dedicated workers to jobs that better support their families; and damage to the quality of care. High quality child care depends on the ongoing relationships caregivers develop with families, children, and co-workers.
Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will pay teachers comparably with kindergarten teachers, doubling their current salaries. The wage floor for assistant teachers and other classroom staff will be set at nearly $20 an hour when the program starts in Fall 2022, with pay levels adjusted to reward increasing skills, training and experience. Continuing professional development will be geared to the schedules of the low-income working parents who are over-represented among preschool workers. Should workers wish to join a union, employers will be required to remain neutral.
Funding universal high quality child care is within reach. Over the past 40 years, U.S. economic gains have been concentrated on an ever smaller group of the wealthy, while responsibility for paying for our infrastructure and public services has been shifted from the affluent to the working and middle classes. Reversing such trends, Multnomah County’s preschool program is to be funded by a county income tax on approximately eight percent of households at the top. Combined federal, state, and local income tax rates for such households will still fall far below the top tax federal income tax rates in place for the much of the 20th century, from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Multnomah County intends to offer preschool up to ten hours a day and on weekend days, but has not committed to other “non-traditional” hours. Employers demand “non-traditional” work schedules for the three occupations expected to add the most jobs between 2019 and 2029: home health and personal care aides, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks. Many retail and hospitality positions also entail low wages and employer insistence that workers maintain “open availability,” and healthcare, construction, and gig workers struggle with work schedules that make it very difficult to find child care.
Multnomah County will pay fair wages to everyone working in the classroom, but will not supplement the pay of people working in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs that pay too little to retain skilled people in the face of a more attractive alternative. The county plans to support some infant and toddler programs, but won’t be able to overcome the severe shortage of affordable, quality care for these age groups, likely to be exacerbated by competition from a preschool system offering better compensation. Finally, preschool and child care is now crowded into inexpensive or public spaces; serving all children well will require a significant investment in physical facilities.
Despite such continuing challenges, Multnomah County’s Preschool for All offers a national model, with its variety of choices to families, living wages for all classroom staff, and an equitable approach to public funding. Each of these aspects needs to be included in any new federal program. In addition, a new federal program should aspire to offer high quality child care to families struggling with difficult work schedules, until labor legislation is revised to place limits on such unpredictable schedules. Strategies will also need to be implemented to improve the wages of workers in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs.
Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education
Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.
Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.
An Opportune Moment for Political Science
Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.
Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.
Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.
Building a Diversity Infrastructure
Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.
Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.
Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.
Mentorship is Not Enough
The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.
Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.
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