Little research has documented the efforts that activist faculty brought to social work education. Drawing on their own experiences faculty members and alumni reflected on the meaning and efforts of a curriculum change and provided a new philosophy in social work education by challenging established norms and social work practice.
Methods: The researchers conducted twenty – five in depth interviews as well as focus groups with both faculty and alumni who were able to discuss their role in the transformation of the curriculum to reflect on the gains attributed to civil rights movements. The faculty was also able to influence change in the profession of social work by their own activism and personal agency. Grounded and life course theory guided the research process. There were five research questions that were posed using a semi – structured instrument format for the collection of data. Recruitment letters were sent to participants who were a part of the curriculum transformation. Interviews were transcribed and the researchers used NVivo software to facilitate the analyses. The authors used life course strategy to conceptualize the effects that the individuals’ life circumstances had on them and their participation in societal change.
Findings: The themes that emerged from this research to document a change in philosophy and curriculum renewal were: (1) the history and possibility of changing the philosophy of the institution (2) to give back to the underserved community; (3) to help with institution building (4)to be a part of curriculum renewal and (5) to fulfill personal dreams. The analysis revealed that people who are products of their own experiences with racism and marginalization, and sensitive to the social and intellectual currents in society, can affect institutional building and promote a more expansive and inclusive social work education.
Conclusions: The study examined the people, the institution and the processes which sought to use the very curriculum of the school to respond to the demands for changes in social work education and society as a whole. Understanding the effects of racism and injustice is not enough to challenge students in their quest to become effective social work practitioners. Adopting a stance of liberating actions that challenge established norms, faculty can work with students to be agents of change. Those who have the uncompromising spirit to challenge the status quo and motivate others to do the same are the true champions of social work education. The focus of changing the curriculum was to better serve the community and develop leadership skills among faculty and students.