Abstract: Intersectionality, Race, and Poverty: A Critical Examination of Student Attitudes and Social Work Educational Practices (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

388P Intersectionality, Race, and Poverty: A Critical Examination of Student Attitudes and Social Work Educational Practices

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley Davis, PhD, LICSW, Assistant Professor, Wheelock College, Boston, MA
Monique Constance-Huggins, PhD, Assistant Professor, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC
Jessica Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Winthrop University, SC
Purpose: Disproportional increases in poverty rates throughout the United States demand critical examination of the intersectionality that exists among the impoverished of color. Increase in poverty rates also enables the proliferation of racially biased (and misguided) stereotypes that the face of poverty is Black (2009). In light of the poverty rates and stereotyped assumptions, a growing body of literature describes the ways in which these identities conflate to produce a highly marginalized group of individuals (Murphy, Hunt, Zajicek, Norris, & Hamilton, 2009). However, little is known about the professional attitudes towards the intersectionality among poverty and race. The Council on Social Work Education stated in its 2015 EPAS that social work students should develop and demonstrate an ability to engage diversity and difference in practice, including the ability “…to manage the influence of personal biases and values” (p. 7). Given the paucity of knowledge on the attitudes of social work students in light of the expectation that programs graduate students who can engage in diverse practice with competence, this study examined the intersection of poverty and color-blind attitudes among graduating BSW and MSW students.  

Methods: Data were collected using standardized measures administered to BSW (n=41) and MSW students (n=128) at multiple (3) sites in the Northeast and Southern United States. Sampling was convenient and purposive. Measures included the CoBRAS scale and the ATP-short form scale and demographic information including courses completed. Descriptive analyses described student characteristics, educational experiences, and personal relationship to poverty. Stepwise linear regression was used to assess demographic and educational determinants for attitudes related to poverty (ATP) and racial colorblindness (CoBRAS).

Findings:  40.8% of the sample identified as a person of color and the overwhelming majority (86%) identified as female. 35% indicated that they were eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL) and 64% had a college educated parent. 91% reported having taken a diversity course, of those 73% reporting an anti-oppressive course.  Multivariate regression analyses indicated that for racial colorblindness student classification (B= 5.83 p <.05) and type of diversity course (B=-7.24 p < .01) significantly explained attitudes towards racial colorblindness. For poverty, student classification (B= -4.71 p <.05), FRL eligibility (B= -3.69 p <.05), and type of diversity course (B= 5.82 p <.01) significantly explained attitudes towards poverty.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings indicate that undergraduate students have less bias and more positive attitudes both towards poverty and the avoidance of racial colorblindness and the type of diversity education has a meaningful impact on student attitudes. The use of anti-oppressive educational strategies rather than antiquated multicultural approaches to social work student education are of central importance. Educators should not assume that graduate students require less diversity education as they may become more biased over time due to desensitization in field or work environments. In an era where racial tensions are high and discourse on poverty has become racially charged it behooves educators to critically reflect upon educational best practices to ensure that social work students are competently prepared.