Addressing White Supremacy in Social Work Institutions and Curriculum

“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. 

Social Work Members of Congress Launch Social Work Day on the Hill

WASHINGTON, DC—Spearheaded by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and joined by former Congressman Ronald V. Dellums and current Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13), Tuesday March 17, 2015 has been declared Social Work Day on the Hill.  A reception will be held in Room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. to highlight the day dedicated to celebrating contributions social workers make to Congress and the federal government.  The event’s theme is Engaging Congress in the Pursuit of Social Justice.

More than two dozen social work organizations and schools are collaborating to create the event in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, founded by Mr. Towns in 2010 during the 111th Congress. Congresswoman Lee chairs the Social Work Caucus.  A focal point of the day will be stepping up efforts to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus

“Having a day for social workers on the Hill has been a dream of mine for a long time,” the former lawmaker acknowledged.  “This will be a day held each year when social workers from all walks of life can gather on the Hill to celebrate the many accomplishments we have made in Congress and salute the many social workers working with the federal government to create a more just and equitable society for all people.  March is Social Work Month so this is the perfect time to do this.”

Towns, who served 30 years in the House representing central Brooklyn, NY before retiring in 2013, earned his M.S.W. degree at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work.  He first introduced the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act in 2008 during the 110th Congress and it has been re-introduced in succeeding Congresses, most recently in the 113th Congress by Rep. Lee as H.R. 1466.  A companion bill, S. 997, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.  Both Lee and Mikulski are social workers.  Congresswoman Lee earned her M.S.W. degree at the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Work.  Sen. Mikulski is a graduate of University of Maryland School of Social Work.

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know first-hand the impact that social workers have on our communities. Professional social workers continue to work on the frontlines, helping individuals overcome adversity, connecting families to critical care services, and making communities thrive,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “As the proud Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, I am looking forward to attending yet another successful social work day on the Hill during Social Work Month in March.”

Former Congressman Ronald Dellums, who served in the House from 1971 to 1988 representing the 9th District in Northern California, will be the keynote speaker for the reception.  He later became mayor of Oakland, CA and is currently the Visiting Fellow at Howard University’s Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center.  He was the first African American to serve as chair of the Armed Services Committee.

“I am pleased to help bring social workers to the Hill,” Mr. Dellums said.  “There is a sense of urgency today that did not exist fifty years ago when I first arrived on the Hill.  When Congressman Towns and I first came to Congress it seemed like we had plenty of time to address the challenges we faced.  The world is moving at a faster clip today and too many people are being left behind.  Social work must find the big idea that will define the profession over the next decade which is why it is so important that we all come together.”

There are currently seven professional social workers in Congress—five in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.  In addition to Congresswoman Lee, other social workers in the House are Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA53), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9) and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA3).  Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are professional social workers.  Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and founder and co-chair of the Out-of Poverty.  In 2013, she was selected by President Barack Obama as the congressional representative to the United Nations.

For additional information, contact Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr., president of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) at celewisjr@gmail.com. CRISP is a 501(c4) nonprofit organization Towns helped to found to complement the work of the Social Work Caucus.

Social Work Students Respond to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Neutrality of Social Work Program Administrators

UC Berkeley Social Welfare graduate students stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we are speaking out against nationwide police brutality and systemic violence against the Black community. As students and as social workers, we feel a responsibility and an obligation to issue a statement in support of the community action and the demands issued by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Our criminal justice system continues to fail the Black community. It is intolerable that the lives of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, McKenzie Cochran, Kimani Gray, and countless other Black men and women were taken by individuals who took an oath to protect and serve them.

tumblr_mz6ujyfZXV1qm0yhvo1_500The criminalization of and violence against Black men and women speaks to larger systems of racism and oppression that we, as social workers, are ethically bound to interrupt. Students questioned the school’s response after the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare administration had not formally issued a statement.

The silence has been deafening, and it has been particularly felt by the Black community throughout the institution. This lack of support on campus for students of color is disgraceful, and completely unacceptable, especially for an institution such as Berkeley that prides itself on diversity, inclusion, and a history of activism.

We join our social work colleagues from Columbia University, Portland State University, Washington University, Smith College, and numerous other schools and organizations that have made public statements to call for community members to demand social reform. As students at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, we too will use our voices to break the silence that pervades our academic community and act on the principles of social justice that we have been discussing in our classroom.

We are in solidarity and thankful to participate in the actions and healing spaces that Berkeley students and community members have organized: The Black Student Union action on December 4th, the walkout organized by the Black Student Union at Berkeley HS on December 10th, the organizing efforts that brought the Millions March Rally from Berkeley to Downtown Oakland on December 13th, and the December 15th  “Not On Our Watch” silent protest organized by the Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO), a response to the effigies which were hung in Sproul plaza. Our goal is to uphold the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s focus on disrupting white supremacy, and we must acknowledge how Black people are mistreated in the United States, including on the UC Berkeley campus.

We invite the Berkeley Social Welfare administration as well as other Schools of Social Work to discuss how our programs can better model social work praxis and include the #SSWBlackLivesMatter organizing movement in their plans for Spring 2015. We will continue to mobilize, and we are prepared to take action on our campus and within our community – because at the end of the day, #BlackLivesMatter.

Media Contact

Ariana Allensworth | ariana.allensowrth@berkeley.edu

UC Berkeley MSW Graduate Student Body

Top 4 Ways to Improve #SocialWork

big-change

Recently, I wrote an article entitled, The Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing, which has become one of the most read and searched for articles on Social Work Helper since its inception. Whether you agree or disagree with my reasons, we all can agree that social work has some serious issues that must be addressed in order to improve outcomes for social workers as well as the perceptions of our profession with the public. Social work institutions are not providing adequate resources or responses to assist social work students and practitioners engaging or who want to engage in grassroots organizing, social justice advocacy, and public policy reforms.

Part of the job of a social worker is to assess and define the problem, but the other part of our job is to look for interventions to implement in order to limit the effects of the problem while adding protective factors to help increase outcomes. In an effort to be solution focused, I went on search to find actionable interventions that we could implement without needing an “Act of Congress” to get the ball moving. Social workers are the first responders to society’s social problems because we engage people from birth to death in all aspects of their life.

As a social worker, I have counseled an oil executive whose life was failing apart, an engineer after an all night drinking bender, a school teacher contemplating suicide, a man who has taken his family hostage at gun point, and a woman who was shot by her partner to name a few. Pain is universal, and it is not limited by socioeconomic boundaries which is why its imperative for social workers to be apart of the conversations developing public policy.

For Students 

As a future practitioner, you will not be able to work in a vacuum which means you will have to interact with other disciplines in order to be effective in practice. However, social work students rarely interact with disciplines outside of their programs or with social work students from other schools. By working in concert with other disciplines at the higher learning level, we are our best examples of how social work skills translate into other areas.

RICNDue to our isolative nature, what opportunities are we not taking advantage of that will serve us later in the workforce? It’s great to have social work clubs and organizations to increase collaborations within our profession, but it is also equally important to form partnerships and collaborations outside of the profession.

For students, I recommend seeking out the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network at your university, or starting a chapter if your university does not have one.

According the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Website,

Campus Network develops local laboratories of democracy and policy experimentation where young people can work with community members to innovate, scale, and replicate the best ideas and policy initiatives emerging from our generation.Students have changed policies around predatory lending; established a tax fund in New Haven capable of sending every high-school graduate to college tuition free; and even included an automatic healthcare enrollment policy in the Affordable Care Act. Read More

Don’t miss out on available workshops, fellowships, and connections with community partners because you are afraid to step outside of our social work bubble.

For Practitioners

In school, most of the time, you have access to a support system through your professors, peers, and other services. However, once you enter the profession, it feels like your professional support system diminishes. Many schools don’t dump a lot of resources into developing strong and thriving alumni networks in order to maintain connections to former students that will allow us to interact with each other. Many social workers, especially those on the lower end pay spectrum, may not be able to afford access to a professional association membership or costs for conferences to gain those connections.

alumnifyMany social workers have turned to social media in attempt to forge those connections, but most would prefer an option for these connections to be an extension of their university community. Social media constructs like Linkedin are not designed for you to connect with each other within a Linkedin Group. How do you find alumni in your area when you are looking for a mentor or trying to expand your network for possible employment opportunities?

For practitioners, I recommend to request that your School of Social Work add an Alumnify Network for its graduates.

According to the Alumnify Website:

Alumnify will give alumni the ability to sign in with LinkedIn and receive data on their professional career and interests. It will allow graduates to find each other in their immediate area, making it as easy as possible to grab coffee and network. Alumnify also provides interactive and modern data that helps universities reach your alumni and understand them like never before. Read More

Currently, Schools of Social Work are making important school policies based on a couple of  hundred surveys they can get people to answer. Alumni get tired of the robocalls and email requests only they want something, and we begin to tune them after the second year we leave school. Why wouldn’t they implement a mutually beneficial system which could be free to users or for a modest fee to offset cost?

For Schools of Social Work

If we are going to advance our profession, we need to be engaging in the national conversations and social issues of our day. Social Workers are attempting to find ways to do this on their own, but utilizing social media improperly can have the opposite intended effect. Earlier this month, I wrote another article on how to reduce risks to employment when using social media where I stated,

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As a profession, we can not begin the journey of leveraging online technology and social media to advance social work because we are stuck having conversations about account creation, security, and ethical use. These things should always be ongoing conversations, but we have got to start making advances in tech education and training.

Agencies, associations, and social work faculty can not adequately answer or provide solutions because most don’t use social media or they utilize outside firms to meet their social media needs. There is nothing wrong with contracting out to meet the needs of your organization, but we must also have mechanisms in place to address social workers’ technological IQ at the micro and mezzo levels. Read More

Social Workers should be engaging in national awareness campaigns which can provide many opportunities to showcase our areas of practice and engagement on social policy issues.  Schools of Social Work should be leading the charge, and when used properly, these could become valuable marketing tools for your university while engaging community stakeholders.

If anyone is interested, take a photo or do a vine using the hashtags #TurnOutForWhat and #SocialWork telling why you are turning out to vote on November 4th. Then, tweet to @swhelpercom, share on SWH Facebook Fan Page, or tag me on instagram. I will be happy to share and promote the issues that you care about.

Learn How to Use Twitter Effectively

When I first started blogging, twitter was the number one tool I used to connect with people. In turn, I credit Twitter as the number one factor in growing Social Work Helper’s readership. Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter does not place limits on who you can follow, who can follow you, or who you can tweet to.

If you decide to tweet a member of Congress or parliament, you may actually get a tweet back. Some of my twitter highlights include a tweet from the Oprah Winfrey Network and being retweeted by the US Department of Labor and Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union.

As an individual, you don’t have to wait until #socialwork get its act together and do a better job at promoting the profession. This is something that we can start doing today.

Social Workers, Watch Your Language

How often do you stop to check the words you’re using with client groups, whether verbally or in writing? Are you sure that you’re using a commonly understood language? Or have you slipped into the comfort zone of everyday “colleague speak” when communicating with your clients? At the root of every social work intervention, micro or macro, is communication. Communication is an interesting mix of words and non-verbal cues.

JARGON PICThis is one of the most basic learning curves in our early social work training. We’re taught all sorts of aspects of effective communication such as how to establish rapport, how to structure a sentence so that the question is “open”, what active listening involves and even how to place seating arrangements to avoid barriers.

We spend months learning how to facilitate groups, identifying roles that participants take on, learning skills to redirect conversations, applying conflict resolution skills and ensuring we maintain a cohesive group where everyone benefits from participation.

We also learn how to gather interested stakeholders to lobby for community justice solutions, empower community groups to represent their views to significant bodies and write reports to further the cause and inspire collective action.

All these processes require effective communication skills. And most social workers pride themselves on their communication skills.

When reflecting on practice, how often do we focus on the actual words we’re using?  The words we string together when interacting with our clients. Somehow, through our social work education and consequent experience in the sector, we start to use words that the sector understands but can fail to convey meaning when it comes to many client groups. Not only do we use terminology that is foreign to our client groups, we actually forget how and when to use “plain speak”.

When someone speaks to us in a language we’re not totally familiar with, there is a shift in focus  on trying to understand the words, as opposed to listening to the message that is being conveyed. At best it’s a distraction, at worst a barrier to understanding.

SOCIAL WORK JARGON

What are some examples of social worker jargon?  For starters, there are so many acronyms in both service language and diagnostic language I’m surprised we understand each other: “Mr and Mrs Brown state they are having issues with parenting, mother has diagnosed BPD but no current treatment, eldest child diagnosed with ADHD. Recommend referral of mother to GP for a MHCP,  both parents advised to contact local C&FS for support and Triple P, and check possibility of vacancy in OOSH for eldest child.”

How many social workers have suggested in conversation to their client that they make an appointment with their GP ? What happened to the word “doctor”? Yes it’s easier and faster to abbreviate titles and labels in reports and in rushed conversations with colleagues. But isn’t it ironic that we express concerns at the social media trend of abbreviations such as LOL, OMG and ROFL yet continue to add more acronyms to our professional vocabulary?

Besides acronyms, what about some of those words that we use every day? Words that are part of daily life for us but confusing for client groups? Examples are   Intervention, advocacy, rapport, consumer, resilience, empower, auspicing  and engagement

Ask Joe Public what he thinks these things mean. Don’t be surprised if he  perceives “intervention” to mean “interfere”;  “to build rapport” is to write a report, “consumer” is someone who does the shopping, advocacy is a lawyer thing, resilience is about the strength of metal, community engagement is lots of couples planning a joint wedding, and auspicing is something to do with orphans. Yes, these are real responses!

THE NECESSITY OF JARGON

Jargon is expected in the formal realms of our profession. Report writing, funding submissions and academic reviews are just some examples.  Using complex language is almost a kind of intellectual segregation.  It says I’m educated, and additionally specifies my expertise in a certain realm. It’s a kind of “tribal speak” . My colleagues know exactly what I’m talking about, and by using this same “language”, I portray that I am worthy of being in this tribe called “social workers”. I prove my belonging by speaking native social work. It’s okay to mix in some native doctor speak if I work in a hospital setting, and some native psychiatrist speak if I work in a mental health setting.  I guess I could choose not to, but then I would not be taken seriously by these allied tribes.

But when I transfer this “social work native” language to those outside the profession, I have to remember that translation may well be required. After all, someone coming to me for support, who is already feeling vulnerable, does not need the added distraction of words they don’t understand.

BACK TO BASICS

In summary then, spend some time reflecting on the words you use when communicating with clients. Use language that most will understand. Keep it simple. By going back to basics, you will ensure that meaning is conveyed without doubt or misunderstanding.

Instead of building rapport, “get to know each other”; instead of talking about resilience let’s discuss “the ability to bounce back”; instead of engaging, we’ll “get together and work on some solutions” and instead of advocating let’s “chat to that person on your behalf”. For the sake of those we seek to support –  please mind your language!

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

gaza

As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Rothman Report Inspires a Student Led Movement

In 2012, Dr. Jack Rothman, a prominent author and academic, issued a report on the current state of social work macro practice. The study identified barriers in schools of social work which have shown a steady decline in social work engagement with community organizing, policy making, and political activism.

Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) received the Student Recognition award from the Association for Social Administration and Community Organization (ACOSA), and I was chosen to lead the expedition to see how we can reinvigorate and shift social workers back into policy makers. I left New York City to go on a fact finding mission in the mid-west in order to collect data and identify concerns from students and academics on the state of macro practice curricula within their universities. I visited four schools of social work which was the University of Texas at Austin, University of Utah, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.

MSWSN
Macro Social Work Student Network

This humbling honor reflects not just the potential of students to affect macro education, but the need for us to be advocates. Anxious to hit the road and meet my colleagues at other schools, I took another look at the Rothman Report which is essential reading for any social worker and especially the macro social worker.  The following findings of the Report manifested themselves during my trip:

  • There is limited integration of macro with micro in the curriculum
  • Macro courses are neglected or marginalized
  • Students are not encouraged to choose a macro program or are deflected to clinical practice
  • There is lack of student interest in or knowledge of macro 
  • Field placements are lacking or problematic
  • Licensure requires many micro courses and leads to little macrocontent

The Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) is a student-driven organization that has been forming campus chapters for macro education advocacy. In turn, this leads to better macro practitioners and healthier communities because social worker are trained to influence policy shifts in order to help improve outcomes for children and families.

Micro level social work is primarily dedicated to clinicians who provide treatment to the individual and/or family. In recent years, social work has shifted from its social justice roots, and it has moved towards the perception of a mental health provider or a child welfare worker.

In my opinion, the profession is dangerously incomplete without macro practitioners organizing in communities, leading and administrating vital agencies, drafting policies, constructing programs for healthier society, and more. Galvanized by the barriers facing macro education, student are working together across the country and in their schools to enhance macro education. On my journey, I met with students and professors to learn more about why they think enhanced macro education is imperative to the social welfare.

Perhaps, it was in the 1980s when the decline in macro education begin to shift. By the 1990’s, a paltry “2.9 to 4.5%” of masters-level students focusing on policy and political involvement according to the Rothman Report. In June, the Network held an event on the current state of macro education with Dr. Loretta Pyles and Dr. Scott Harding presenting on the 2012 Rothman Report.

The Rothman Report added validity to what students were already feeling in their schools which equated to macro education students being underserved. Amazingly, campus chapters have been springing from Massachusetts, Texas to California, and it is reminiscent of “an earlier period [when] grassroots activism and political campaigns were a vibrant aspect of the emerging social work field” (Rothman, 2013).

University of Texas-Austin

At the University of Texas-Austin, I encountered two impassioned MSW students, Elise Fleming and Jessa Glick who led me to Professor Duncan’s classroom. Professor Duncan asserted, “As an educator and social work practitioner I believe robust macro education is critical to fulfilling our profession’s commitment to social justice.  We cannot achieve true social justice one client at a time.” He continued, “To be truly effective social work education must include a strong foundation in macro practice for all students and specific skill development for those students that want to focus on macro practice.  One of the true tenets of macro practice is grassroots organizing and empowerment. I am excited to see the potential of MSWSN to help students learn those skills and strengthen macro practice!”

Ms. Glick made the statement, “I think of macro education as siloed. I don’t see clinical and macro as separate, but curricula enforce a false binary that they are. MSWSN is giving students a chance to collaborate and share experiences.” She continued, “MSWSN allows for sharing of information and innovations/trends within macro social work programs with a space for dialogue. Most importantly, the student voice has a professional platform.”

A few days later I received a message that UT-Austin would start a chapter and focus on assessing the school’s macro curriculum using MSWSN’s assessment survey.

Arizona State University and North Arizona University

The next day, I made my way to the Land of Enchantment at Arizona State University, where I met Judy Krysik’s Program Planning in Social Services class in Phoenix and Nick Taras’ at the Tuscon campus. Assistant Professor David Androff regarded this “as a huge opportunity for ASU social work students.”  ASU’s Policy, Administration, and Community Practice (PAC) students expressed many concerns that would be echoed up north in Dr. Anne Medill’s BSW macro course at Northern Arizona University (NAU).

NAU students, limited by an undergraduate generalist curriculum, threw up their hands with questions such as:

  • Other than what was described, what else is macro social work?
  • What sort of job can I get as a macro practitioner?
  • What about the licensing?
  • Can I actually be a social worker who writes policy?
  • How can we get more macro classes in here?

These are real questions that social work students face across the country and not enough are getting the answers they need. Students are feeling disempowered and misguided by an abundance of myths, misinformation, and mere separation from the facts in order to make intelligent decisions about their social work careers. Ultimately, both the student and our communities suffer.

University of Utah

At the University of Utah, I spoke both with MSW students in Dr. Lindsay Gezinski’s class and in a general information session, each organized by BSW students Carlos Rivera and Rick Reimann. Although Utah only offers a clinical track, students still have macro practice concentration option. One student, Katheryn Dennet stated,

“I see great value in understanding and participating in macro level social work. Systematic change requires many minds – including clinicians – to provide information for our clients. Too often we feel powerless and if we communicate this to our clients we will have done them a great disservice. Learning how to work at the macro level as a clinician is empowering and a crucial part of the social work education. MSWSN’s presentation made me, for the first time, feel excited about a clinician’s role in a large macro setting.”

The Rothman Report

Dr. Rothman started the “Action Recommendations” section of the Report with the following statement:

“There was a strong sentiment for increasing the visibility of the macro area and advocating for its greater status and importance in the field. The major institutions identified as key to attaining this objective are CSWE (in particular), schools and departments, and NASW. These emerge as the core target groups of an action program. Additional targets are the general public, related professions and disciplines, and social work scholarly organizations”

With this statement, I interpret its meaning as stating student involvement in schools and departments of social work is an inherent necessity for the growth of macro practice. While I encourage collaboration with CSWE and the NASW, the development of solutions to barriers to growth in macro education must begin with student action.

As I reflect on my journey, I realized there is more work to be done with MSWSN than before I left, and student sentiments are clear. We want enhanced macro education, and we’re determined to work for it. The development and growth of MSWSN provides an opportunity to facilitate and advocate for the advancement of macro practice. Increased advocacy has the ability to influence schools to produce more and better-skilled macro practitioners which will enhance policy initiative to improve communities.

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