Abstract: Preparing Social Workers for Anti-Oppressive Practice: Evaluating the Role of Critical Social Work Education (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Preparing Social Workers for Anti-Oppressive Practice: Evaluating the Role of Critical Social Work Education

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Christopher Thyberg, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh
Background and Purpose: Social work education is undergoing an important shift that seeks to address racism and oppression embedded within our profession. Critical social work (CSW) is one of many approaches to social work pedagogy and practice that provides valuable tools to dismantle internal systemic racism and oppression within the field. Yet, CSW remains an underexplored topic in social work research. As such, this study examined the prevalence of CSW educational opportunities, student attitudes, and how those factors associated with student learning outcomes.

Methods: Data were collected in 2021 using an exploratory, cross-sectional online survey design at a major social work program located in a northeastern city with both undergraduate and graduate social work students (n = 191). A mixed methods data analysis approach was used which incorporated descriptive statistics for numeric data and thematic analysis for open-ended items to examine the prevalence of CSW exposure and student attitudes towards CSW education. Next, a linear regression model examined the association between dichotomous predictor variables, exposure to CSW and student intent to use CSW, and the Diversity and Oppression Scale (DOS), which measures students’ cultural and social justice knowledge based on several Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) competencies.

Results: The survey findings provided a snapshot into the current state of CSW for students at a large social work program. Only 30.4% of participants were familiar with the term CSW prior to taking the survey. However, themes derived from the open-ended items suggest that students were acquainted with specific concepts and tangential theories to CSW. Once introduced to the term through a definition provided in the survey, 51% of students felt they used CSW in their field placement and 68.6% believed some element of CSW was provided in their classes, though most students indicated it was often an idiosyncratic unit within a course. Student interest in CSW was consistently high as 92.5% wanted to learn more about CSW in classes, 79.5% wanted to use more CSW in field placement, and 68.1% planned to fully utilize CSW within their professional career. Linear regression model results demonstrate that the model for social work students was significant (F[10, 158] = 4.05, p < .001, R2=.204). Plans to use CSW in the future (B = 4.41, p < .01) and prior learning of CSW (B = 3.59, p < .01) are significant dichotomous predictors of student knowledge on the DOS when controlling for relevant confounding variables.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings indicate that although opportunities for student learning in the classroom and field placements are mixed, student interest in CSW is remarkably strong. Further, although preliminary, significant positive associations were found between both students’ learning CSW and students’ plans to use CSW in the future on student knowledge and attitudes of diversity and oppression. These findings suggest the importance of CSW education as a beneficial tool for social work students. I conclude with recommendations on how to expand CSW use in the classroom and field placement settings for social work educators.