Improve Racial Equity at U-M School of Social Work #antiracistUMSSW

Improve Racial Equity at U-M School of Social Work #antiracistUMSSW

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Justin Woods started this petition to University of Michigan School of Social Work

During her opening remarks at the School of Social Work fall 2019 orientation, Dean Lynn Videka implored incoming students to achieve one goal while in the program: to become anti-racist. As racial disparities in all morbidities have culminated in Black Americans facing the shortest life expectancy of all Americans per a recent report, anti-racism work is of the utmost urgency. However, we as students of the program question if the MSW curriculum is helping us achieve the Dean’s singular goal.   

Our time in the classroom has illuminated a gap between social work’s core value of social justice — echoed in the school’s much touted curricular framework of PODS (privilege, oppression, (intersectional) diversity, and social justice) —  and how we’re being taught. This gap has been most exemplified in one of the curriculum’s required courses, Social Work 504 – Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work. 

Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work is taught as a week-by-week exploration of different marginalized identities: Black/African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, the LGBTQ+ community, etc. The layout of the course alone contradicts the school’s goal of focusing on   intersectionality, or the understanding that individuals have multiple identities that interplay to compound social privilege or oppression. By compartmentalizing the discussion of different identities, the curriculum effectively erases the reality of intersectional oppression and instead provides only surface level exposure to the impact of oppression experienced by various marginalized social groups.   

Furthermore, when it comes to discussing oppression the course is tepid on the pernicious oppression of racism. Instead of unequivocally and substantively interrogating the systemic white supremacy that allows for incoming graduate students to be unaware of the social privilege of whiteness, we engage in a cursory and trepidatious overview of the uncomfortable topic. It would appear as the course is developed with the white student majority in mind. By doing so, the school placates students’ discomfort discussing race at the expense of the racially diverse clientele we’re all but certain to engage as social workers. 

Based on our experience and our desire to actualize the social work values that brought us to the University, we believe the School of Social Work stands to grow through the following changes:

  1. Add a mandatory course on race and ethnicity in social work that uses a critical race theory lens.
  2. Offer a course on anti-oppressive practices in social work.
  3. Mandate a minimum proportion of assigned readings across courses from indigenous and people of color writers, acknowledging the role academia has played in the dearth of racially and ethnically diverse scholarship.
  4. Forge a connection with the Center for Institutional Diversity to support the faculty’s comfort in teaching across racial and ethnic differences.

As the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics has made education about “social diversity and oppression” a professional imperative, we invite everyone to join our movement for a more equitable curriculum. #antiracistUMSSW

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