Abstract: "There's No Awareness, No Understanding How Difficult It Is to be a Person of Color in These Times": Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on MSW Bipoc Students (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

"There's No Awareness, No Understanding How Difficult It Is to be a Person of Color in These Times": Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on MSW Bipoc Students

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Dale Dagar Maglalang, PhD, MA, MSW, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Brown University, Providence, RI
Abril N. Harris, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Ty B. Tucker, MSW, Doctoral Student, Boston College School of Social Work, Chestnut Hill, MA
Tyrone Parchment, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College School of Social Work, MA
Background and Purpose: Studies have shown that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students experience numerous forms of discrimination in higher education settings because of systemic racism. The COVID-19 pandemic further underscored these inequities that disproportionately affected BIPOC students. Emerging studies showed that while poor mental health increased overall among students, BIPOC students were at higher risk for developing clinical depression and anxiety. Few studies have explored the effects of the pandemic on the experiences of social work students, and even less have explored the multi-layered experiences of BIPOC social work students. The purpose of this paper is to examine the experiences of BIPOC MSW students during the pandemic, how it affected their mental health, and resources they accessed to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

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.