Methods: This study used an explanatory mixed methods design. A quantitative survey was first sent to students (n=272) which was followed by individual interviews with selected students (n=12) to follow up on questions asked in the survey. Surveys asked students for their perceptions about a range of topics related to human rights in their field placements and in their social work education. Students were also asked about human rights practices in their field placements and about their interest in and understanding of human rights. Finally, students were asked for their beliefs on statements of human rights pulled from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students who agreed to an interview follow up participated in an hour long session. Interview transcripts were read by multiple research team members to develop codes from the data. The codes were used to extract quotes from participants that were then used to develop the themes in the results.
Results: Quantitative results revealed that students had high regard for human rights. Overwhelmingly, students identified each right from the UDHR as being an important aspect of human rights in social work practice. Categories where larger numbers of students disagreed with statements on human rights included freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and access to abortion; however, even in these instances, more students agreed than disagreed. Qualitative analysis resulted in three themes emerging that indicate students report a loss of agency in their placements and an uncertainty about the human rights education they have received. Students reported being treated like their experiences and knowledge were not important because they were “only interns” and that they did not feel empowered to speak out when they saw things that should not occur.
Conclusion and Implications: Preparing social work students for practice in human rights imperative for field education. Implications for social work education and field are discussed along with ways to address concerns raised in this study.