Abstract: A Diverse Cohort of Social Work Students' Learning Experience during Covid-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

622P A Diverse Cohort of Social Work Students' Learning Experience during Covid-19

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Naishuo Sun, MSW, PhD Candidate, Fordham University, Seattle, WA
Kandra Knowles, MSW, Doctoral Student, Fordham University, New York, NY
Robert P. McLaughlin, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Saumya Tripathi, MPhil, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: The unprecedented pandemic and mounting racial tensions challenged roles of students both internal and external to the academic environment. There is a minimal body of research that informs the understanding of how students experience the social work values being taught, especially among graduate level students. The stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on the alignment of values and education in social work.

This paper fills a gap by highlighting themes of how a diverse cohort of doctoral students experienced social work values, during a semester in their social work education journey. Additionally, student accounts provide insight into ways schools of social work may seek to align social work values with social work education, especially in moments of crisis.

Methods: Initial interviews conducted with a diverse cohort of four full-time doctoral students at one private New York City university, provided themes. The sample was 75% female, 25% male and 75% BIPOC, 25% Caucasian. Participants were doctoral students who took classes during the spring semester of 2020. In-depth interviews elicited participants’ experience of life and academic learning during the pandemic. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically guided by a phenomenological approach to analyze students’ experience of the pandemic at a specific time.

Findings: Initial analysis grouped codes into key themes including individual challenges, academic achievement, and support. Individual challenges ranged from immigration concerns and mental health issues to employment challenges and internet access. Three out of four students stated that the impact of individual challenges on academic achievement was related to unequal access to resources and support.

The forced shift to less-than-ideal learning environments left students without access to services (i.e., the library and Office of Specialized Services) which left some to seek from their social network guidance and encouragement. Moreover, participants varied in their responses to different approaches taken by professors. Students felt that professors that modeled social work values consistently prior to the pandemic were more supportive during the crisis.

Implications: By highlighting the typically underrepresented student voices and understanding the interplay of intersectionality, this research brings new dimensionality to understand the inequalities and racial tension during a crisis, which are core contents in the social work education, but not fully mirrored in the classroom.

This study also provides a new direction for future study to use a participatory empowerment model. Seeking saturation of the initial themes, a heterogeneous purposive sample can be selected from the same university to conduct an additional 20-30 interviews with Masters level students at a same time point to generalize greater themes. The study helps challenge schools to think about the teaching style, university policies, and ways to help students navigate the academic setting when a future crisis arises. It also provides insights for schools of social work to ground future decisions within reflecting social work values in professional social work development.