Abstract: Engaging Anti-Racist Approaches in Social Work Education: The Power of Critical Storytelling and Transformational Conversations (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.

Engaging Anti-Racist Approaches in Social Work Education: The Power of Critical Storytelling and Transformational Conversations

Friday, January 13, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Amber Williams, MSW, MA, Doctoral Student of Higher Education, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Katie Richards-Schuster, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI

The social work grand challenge to eliminate racism acknowledges racial inequality, discrimination, and marginalization as a historical and contemporary phenomenon that plagues U.S society and the field at large. In response to this imperative, many scholars have proposed educational interventions that train social work students to move beyond uncovering implicit bias and developing cultural competence, and towards a multileveled awareness and understanding of systematic racism (Aldana & Vazquez, 2021). Classroom contexts that promote group dialogue and discussion through critical social theory demonstrate potential for transformative learning outcomes wherein students’ express power-conscious perspectives, reflexivity, and critical consciousness (Dessel et al., 2006). Further, extant social work education literature on structured curriculum that incorporates critical self-reflection and life narratives demonstrate opportunities for iterative learning and feedback loops that allow students to authentically challenge biases, examine prior knowledge, and imagine justice-centered social work practice. (Lay & Mcguire, 2010)

Storytelling in popular education is a long-standing community organizing approach known to foster collective consciousness and promote change initiatives that de-center dominant narratives and advance co-liberationist efforts among Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Drawing from these traditions and foundations, critical storytelling practices give power to individual histories and narratives. As an approach, it encourages people to reflect on their life experiences, make connections to issues, systems, and structures, engage in conflict and controversy, and practice critical contextual thinking (Bell, 2020). This session will share findings and key practices from a qualitative research study on how students make meaning of anti-racism, following participation in a semester-long critical community change social work course.


The following qualitative study was conducted as a single case study analysis with in-depth semi-structured interview and background survey data. Interviews were conducted between sixty and ninety minutes at a time among fifteen total participants, multiple years after their course enrollment. Within this purposive sample, 66% identified as women, 50% identified as students of color, and 45% identified as first generation college students. The interview protocol examined participants' perspectives about the impact of storytelling in the classroom, key takeaways about anti-racism, and how the course influenced their current social justice practice. Data analysis included an inductive-constant-comparative coding method, and thematic analysis of student interview data as well as background survey responses.


Findings from the study demonstrate teaching strategies and learning outcomes of narrative pedagogy at the individual and group level including: vulnerable storytelling through power-conscious testimonials, facilitating critical empathy and collective meaning-making through interpersonal reflection, and examining one’s positionality through critical contextual processing.


Critical storytelling approaches center deep relationships that enable individuals to be vulnerable, examine and explore their stories and the interconnections with others, and to transform their ideas and practices in the process. This study contributes to education scholarship on critical storytelling and opportunities to create transformative learning environments that promote anti-racism practice in social work education and practice. The implications of this research highlight the importance of key skills and practices needed to enable authentic and meaningful conversations in community and educational contexts.