Methods: We employed a cross-sectional convergent parallel mixed-methods design using an online survey and focus group interviews (N=29) of MSW BIPOC students in a predominantly white institution (PWI) in the Northeast. We used univariate, Chi-square and t-tests, as appropriate, to examine the frequency, associations, and meaningful differences between psychological distress and demographic variables. Thematic analysis was used to establish themes and concepts related to our research aims. The point of integration of the quantitative and qualitative data was during the data analysis phase.
Results: About 69% of the participants experienced psychological distress with higher proportions among those who identified as Latine/Latinx, womxn, straight, first-generation, full-time and part-time students, respectively, and clinical students. Gender was the only variable associated with psychological distress (p=<0.005). Our focus group findings revealed three themes. The first theme demonstrated that the experiences and needs of white MSW students were prioritized. Participants felt that the pandemic ignored the additional burden that BIPOC communities experience working as frontline and service workers during the pandemic and the Black community grieving the death of George Floyd and other Black bodies being murdered across the country. The second theme illuminated inconsistencies in the response of their program to the pandemic, in their classrooms, and in their field placements. Students were forced to advocate for themselves and their needs to ensure that they are getting the experience they need to be effective social workers. The third theme showed that while psychological distress was high among our participants, the abrupt shift to virtual learning provided a reprieve for students from experiencing racism and other forms of oppression that they often experienced being physically present in their classes. Participants noted that this helped improve their perceived well-being.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study indicate that MSW programs must acknowledge how systemic racism affects the learning experiences of BIPOC MSW students and their well-being that was further exacerbated by the pandemic. Implications for this study can assist social work program administrators, faculty, and staff to center anti-racism in their praxis and policies, and allocate resources that center the well-being of BIPOC students that are effective even without a pandemic.