Abstract: Social Work Education in the Shadow of Confederate Statues and the Specter of White Supremacy: A Case Study (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

528P Social Work Education in the Shadow of Confederate Statues and the Specter of White Supremacy: A Case Study

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Travis Albritton, Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Allison De Marco, PhD, Advanced Research Scientist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carrboro, NC
JP Przewoznik, MSW, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: In keeping with our commitment to anti-oppressive social justice education and practice, and in the shadow of confederate statues and the specter of white supremacy within the ivory tower, the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill embarked on a process to re-vision the way we approach generalist practice in our MSW Program. Our goal is to live into the values of our NASW Code of Ethics and our educational charges from CSWE, in which we are called to prepare students to engage diversity and difference in practice and advance human rights, social, economic, and environmental justice. This work is in service to the vital role that social workers must play in challenging systems of oppression and disrupting white supremacy in our institutions.

Methods: Using case study methods, this presentation traces the School’s re-visioning process through interviews, document review, and community conversations, highlighting leadership from students to keep issues of racial and social justice at the forefront, the School’s strategic planning process, and initiatives to disrupt manifestations of white supremacy culture in both the climate and curriculum.

Results: Initiatives targeted all levels of the school community, including SSW-wide Community Conversations, faculty senate trainings, an all-school retreat, the creation of the Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion position, and a faculty and staff book read of How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. The hallmark educational offerings for students have included an on-line history of oppression course leading into the generalist year and the first year generalist course, Confronting Oppression and Institutional Discrimination. The School uses Critical Race Theory, in addition to other seminal critical theories, as a tool to frame students’ educational journeys and their prospective practice as social workers upon graduation. This content is introduced in the Confronting Oppression course, which examines institutionalized oppression and implications for practice at all levels, emphasizing the consequences of social inequality and the social worker’s responsibilities to interrogate oppression in policy and practice.

Conclusions and Implications: This ahistorical process offers a reframe away from narratives of exclusion toward narratives of inclusion, and calls us to interrogate ways of knowing and practicing steeped in white culture that have been centered in schools of social work for too long. To build on this work, the School will use a two-pronged approach to dismantling white supremacy with a Summer Reading Initiative focused on relationship-building within the school community and the restructuring of the Confronting Oppression course. The Summer Reading Initiative book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl, serves as a common reference point for first-year MSW students as they collectively explore the kinds of complex problems that social workers address. This model can serve as a prototype for other schools of social work across the country as they also work to create programs that are both site-specific and universally reflective of the systemic and institutional changes we need to see in a U.S. context.