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 Incorporation of this historical content into social work curriculum will allow students to apply a critical analysis of the roots and racialized consequences of current social policies.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.