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  October 18, 2004

School Of Social Work Values
Diversity In Students, Faculty, Courses

On a crisp September morning, more than 100 students form a line on the lawn outside the School of Social Work. They have just been introduced to the faculty and are waiting to start their first exercise in diversity training: the privilege walk.

“If, when you are ignored or do not receive service in a store or restaurant, you question whether it is because of the color of your skin, take a step backward,” says a facilitator. Then: “If you do not have to worry about people assuming that you are helpless or always need extra assistance because of a disability step forward.” After some 30 questions were asked, the participants found themselves standing all over the lawn – a symbolic representation of their life experiences.

This exercise is part of a day-long diversity training in which all new matriculated students at the School of Social Work must participate.

“It is important for social work students to have a strong understanding of what will be needed to work with very different populations,” says Kay Davidson, dean of the School of Social Work. Diversity is a curriculum content area required for accreditation, “but that’s not the only reason why we do it,” she says. “We value it.”

The training is “an attempt to help people from the very beginning to become aware of the different populations they will work with, as well as their own differences within the training group and school,” Davidson says.

One course all students are required to take is called “Human Oppression: The African American and Puerto Rican Perspective.” The course explores the experiences of these groups, both in the past and now.

Fred Maryanski, interim provost, calls the School of Social Work “a model in terms of the diversity of its study body and faculty. Dean Davidson and her colleagues have worked hard to create a curriculum that consciously addresses social issues relevant to minority groups, and also to create a welcoming environment in the School, in which all students and faculty can celebrate their diversity.”

Davidson says a great deal of effort is put into recruitment. “We work to recruit a diverse student body and faculty from diverse backgrounds,” she says. About 30 percent of both students and full-time faculty are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

But recruiting a racially diverse study body is just the first step, she says: “We also make sure that there are strong supports to retain them.”

One such support is the areas of study, Davidson says. Students may take an area of focus such as “Black Studies for Social Work Practice” or “Puerto Rican/Latino/a Studies in Social Work.” In addition to specific courses that teach students about various groups, there are lectures, discussions, and other activities to enhance and support the curriculum. Student groups include the Organization of Black Social Work Students, the Latin American Student Organization, the Jewish Social Work Alliance, the Asian and Asian American Student Organization, and the Women’s Caucus.

While much of the diversity at the School of Social Work relates to racial and ethnic differences, it is also a place where gay, lesbian, and bisexual people feel an affinity, Davidson says. “Social work is a profession that is focused on human and civil rights and social justice. The school is a receptive place for students of these populations, and for learning to work with their special needs.”