Abstract: "Those Are the Things That We Need to be Talking about": The Impact of Learning about the History of Racial Oppression during Ghana Study Abroad (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

392P "Those Are the Things That We Need to be Talking about": The Impact of Learning about the History of Racial Oppression during Ghana Study Abroad

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Katarzyna Olcon, PhD, Social Work Lecturer, University of Wollongong, Liverpool, Australia
Rose Pulliam, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Texas State Univerity, San Marcos, TX
Dorie Gilbert, PhD, Professor and MSW Program Director, Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA
Background and Purpose: Knowledge and awareness of history can provide a framework for analysis and incite empathy related to racial oppression. Given the deficiencies in the U.S. history curricula and pedagogical approaches to teaching topics such as slavery and colonization, most students enter college without knowing much about history of racial oppression. Social work education, with its Eurocentric foundations and insufficient engagement with topics of race and racism, is likely to do little to alleviate this gap and perhaps serves to perpetuate this historical unawareness in its students. Guided by critical race theory, the purpose of this paper is to answer the following research questions: (1) What did U.S. college students learn about the history of racial oppression during a study abroad program in Ghana?; (2) How was their learning experience different from their education in the United States?; and (3) What meaning did the students make of this new historical understanding?

Methods: The data presented draw from ethnographic observations, individual, in-depth interviews, and written journals of 19 students who participated in a Ghana study abroad program over the course of two years. Most participants were women (16) and social work majors (15). Eight students were White, eight Latino/a, two Black, and one was Asian American. Data was analyzed using an inductive thematic approach and managed through NVivo. Triangulation and member checking ensured rigor and credibility.

Results: Ghana offered a unique context for learning about the history of racial oppression as it was one of the major ports for transatlantic slave trade. Four themes were identified: (1) the suffering and resilience of African and African descent people; (2) “it’s still happening today; (3) “you don’t learn about that in school”; and (4) remembrance, equity, and healing. The most eye-opening experience for students was the visit to the slave castles and learning about the magnitude of the violence and injustice against Africans and people of African descent. Students expressed frustration with the U.S. education system which “breezes through” the topics of slavery and colonization. As connections between past and present racial oppression in the United States and globally were recognized, students yearned for a forthright education and dialogue about racism as a first step toward acknowledging historical trauma and creating a racially equitable society.

Conclusions and Implications: Our findings suggest a need for explicit education related to slavery and colonization and their current repercussions. Incorporation of this historical content into social work curriculum will allow students to apply a critical analysis of the roots and racialized consequences of current social policies. Understanding history can thus serve as an important factor to ensure that students learn how to avoid the mainstream (mis)interpretations of public issues, such as the disproportionate incarceration of Black men, in terms of private troubles. Through anti-racist education that includes a true presentation of the U.S. history, educators can promote open and honest dialogue about past and present racial injustice and support students to seek equity, healing, and reconciliation.