Over the past few decades, the term diversity has become a fixture within social work (SW) conversations. However, despite the consistency with which this term is used, both the discipline and profession have continued to struggle to achieve this ideal. According to the Counsel of Social Work Education (CSWE) (2017; 2015) between 75 to 85% of SW students, across degree types, and 73% of all SW factuality, identify as woman; the greatest majority denoting as none-Hispanic White. To the extent to which SW fails to address the underrepresentation of minority voices within the profession, it remains insulated from non-populous critiques and susceptible to the unintended development and promotion of majoritarian views of the populations they serve.
In an effort to respond to this concern, this study examines the educational experiences of six African American (AA) men majoring in SW. More precisely, this study focuses how these young men, experience, understand and make since of their SW education.
Interpretative phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used in conducting this investigation. IPA was chosen because it offers an accession to traditional phenomenological approaches by providing researchers with a more comprehensive means of engaging both lived experiences and meaning making processes. The significance of these additional resources is informed by the knowledge that elements within a person’s environment exist independent of intrinsic value or meaning.
The study population consisted of six undergraduate AA men majoring in social work at a predominantly White university in the Southeast region of the united states. The selected institution was chosen because the racial and gender composition, of both the faculty and the student-body, were consistent with the data provided in the 2017 CSWE Annual Survey on Social Work Programs and the CSWE 2015 Annual Statistics on Social Work Education. Purposeful sampling was used, and IRB approval was obtained prior to the collection of data. Participants engaged in individual, 45-minute interviews, and were asked descriptive, narrative and evaluative questions; the primary question being, “Can you tell me about your experience in the social work program?”.
Data analysis consisted of the use of Atlas-TI8 and the eight-step iterative and inductive cycle process outlined by Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2009)
Findings suggest the emergence of three major themes, 1. White Norming, 2. Weaponized fragility, and 3. “Progressive” Marginalization.
Conclusion and Implications
Given the various ways in which social work has become more homogeneous, it is imperative that it actively seek to identify, engage and elevate non-majoritarian critiques. In doing so, the SW profession will be better equipped to not only serve a diversifying society but attract a workforce more representative of the world in which it inhabits. Implications for cultural competency efforts / education within social work were also identified.