Abstract: Power, Policies, and Administration: Teaching Students Anti-Racist Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Power, Policies, and Administration: Teaching Students Anti-Racist Practice

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Crystal Hayes, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Connecticut, Hartford
Jill Manit, PhD, Assistant Clinical Professor, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT
Background: Just like the United States in the era of a Trump presidency and COVID-19, social work education is at a crossroads, and it has a decision to make about its core values and commitments to a just society. Will it educate students to actively resist and oppose racism, challenge white supremacy, and actively disrupt unjust inhumane policies and practices; or, to be passive bystanders who become agents of social control in agencies and institutions that violate human rights? This presentation describes the evaluation of an asynchronous online Anti-Racist Social Work Practice course. The course is based on race as a “power and social construct” rooted in a particular colonial history, ideology of race, and systems that are woven together to promote and maintain inequity in our culture that has historically advantaged white people to the detriment of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). Change is only possible when we, not only challenge such systems, but when we dismantle them. As the course aims develop specific skills, an evaluation of the extent to which students are demonstrating those skills is necessary.

Methods: A formative evaluation approach is employed to identify structural and content areas of strength and need for improvement. Context and outcome evaluation strategies are simultaneously employed according to three questions:

  1. To what extent does the course achieve its objectives in developing student capacity to practice from an anti-racism framework using critical race theory and Black Feminist Thought?
  2. In what ways does student engagement, buy-in, and “white fragility” emerge in the course activities and assignments and how does this change over time?
  3. In what ways does a bi-racial (Black and white faculty) co-teaching structure influence course delivery and student engagement?

To answer 1 and 2 above, thematic analysis and case study techniques are employed to online course discussions, submitted papers, blog entries and wiki activities across three separate terms. To answer 3 above, the bi-racial co-teaching team engage in critical reflective dialogue and journaling to document approaches to student interaction, grading, and online discussions.

Results: Formative evaluation results reveal a need to add explicit prompts to elicit student reflection on their future practice and that students experience the assignments and content differently, according to their own race and personal experiences. Themes emerging from course content include (research questions 1 and 2): 1. Active stance - Results indicate students transitioned from “I’m a good person” and “I value all diversity” to a personal and urgent responsibility to take action, 2. Confront racism – Results indicate student’s willingness to call out and confront racism, and 3. Confront internal bias – Results indicate students actively reflect on whether or not they would have “noticed” racism prior to the course content.

Implications: The findings of this evaluation expand the social work education dialogue from the need to develop anti-racist practice skills amongst students to the how we achieve such learning objectives. Implications emphasize institutional structures that support co-teaching arrangements and contextual influences are just as important to content and delivery.