Statement from faculty and staff at PSU’s School of Social Work on Ferguson

Ferguson: We stand with you

Faculty and Staff of the Portland State University School of Social Work stand in solidarity with communities working to address racism in our society, and in particular in our criminal legal system.  We are saddened and outraged by the St. Louis County grand jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, and we call for individual and collective healing and organizing for justice.

We know that individual acts of violence happen within broader contexts. In the case of Michael Brown’s death and the failure to indict and allow to stand trial those responsible for his death, this larger context includes institutions that continue to perpetuate racism and other forms of structural violence.  We know that communities of color and other minoritized groups are consistently targeted by police and disproportionately represented within the criminal legal system. In this country, when law-enforcement agents harass, beat, choke, and/or shoot civilians – particularly black men – it is done with impunity. The current crisis in Ferguson and subsequent reactions and rallies across the country is symptomatic of this structural anti-black racism.

As a School, we have an explicit commitment to working against racism, and other social injustices; as such, we aim to expose and challenge the forces of structural oppression that result in violence, disempowerment, and dehumanization of minoritized communities.  What is happening in Ferguson does not exist in isolation; it clearly reflects historical and current conditions globally, across the United States, and locally. In particular, it highlights the injurious effects of racism perpetuated by police against people of color, particularly black men.  We know first hand the realities faced by people impacted by discriminatory policing and surveillance and we continue to support efforts to develop alternative models of safety and justice for all of our communities.

As we look toward Ferguson, it is imperative that we strategize around solutions to dismantle racist institutions and practices while simultaneously supporting those who are most affected by the oppression and injustices inherent in these systems.  We are not alone in this work, nor is this a new charge for social work and our allied fields.  There is a long history of racial justice organizing within our professions as well as important work going on at present.  As a School of Social Work, we are well-positioned to respond to our current social conditions and must continue to work to transform our professional work into efforts that promote socially just, anti-racist services, programs, policies, and change.

Toward this end, we  build on the Smith College of Social Work’s statement on Ferguson (http://www.smith.edu/ssw/docs/fergusonstatement.pdf) to call upon our communities to:

  • Participate in non-violent social and political actions to interrupt oppressive practices and promote systemic changes
  • Engage in critical dialogue about the systemic forces of race and racism that shape our relationships and communities
  • Strategize around solutions to dismantle racist institutions and practices.
  • Support those who are most affected by oppression and injustices inherent in our systems.
  • Advocate for policies that support alternatives to policing including community-based approaches to safety and conflict resolution.

Please see Dean Laura Nissen’s blog post on this matter including additional resources for learning and action at:   http://sswdeanconnect.wordpress.com/

Members of the Faculty and Staff from Portland State School of Social Work:

Ben Anderson-Nathe

Jared I. Best

Bill Boyd

Sarah Bradley

Danica Brown

Beckie Childs

Miranda Cunningham

Ann Curry-Stevens

Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis

Ted Donlan

Erin Flynn

Lisa Hawash

Michael Hulshof-Schmidt

Veronika Ivanova

Pauline Jivanjee

Ericka Kimball

Sandy Leotti

Jennifer Linnman

Analucia Lopezrevoredo

Staci Martin

Michele Martinez Thompson

Martha McCormack

Gita Mehrotra

Pamela J. Miller

James Nash

Bahia Overton

Meg Panichelli

Lisa Race

Teresa D. Schmidt

Claudia Sellmaier

Anne Sinkey

Gary Smith

Susie Snyder

Michael Taylor

Sonja Taylor

Alma M.O. Trinidad

Shannon Turner

Stéphanie Wahab

Norm Wyers

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Education accessibility

As I enter the academic job market, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection trying to understand what I want to do and where I want to be. I am quite green and naive about what it means to work in academia. I’m a first generation college graduate. I was lucky enough to have an older sister to blaze the trail for me. Though I was a late starter (aka non-traditional student), I knew the ropes of applying to college, putting down the deposit money to hold your place, and completing the FAFSA. I am the first in my immediate family to go on to graduate school. Applying and completing my master’s program was not so different from my bachelors. I completed my undergraduate and graduate education via weekend programs at very reputable private colleges. I was exposed to great professors who were dedicated to teaching and mentoring me through the process.

Recently, I found that this type of accessibility is not always welcomed by faculty. There are faculty members in some schools that only want to teach within traditional day programs. Bemoan any mention of having to teach at night or the weekends. Thus, leaving many of these courses to adjunct/community faculty to teach. While this is a fantastic opportunity for adjunct instructors and students, I am disappointed that a group of students (those who can ONLY take night and weekend classes)  will never have exposure to some great scholars.

Educational accessibility is social justice issue for me. Despite what many think, post secondary education continues to be a relatively white, middle (upper) class  privilege. Without the accessibility of a weekend program, I would have never been able to complete my education. I needed a program that was flexible enough so my partner could work while I stayed home with our two small children during the week. Then on the weekends, my partner took care of the children while I went to class. My children grew up on college campuses as I moved from undergrad to graduate level work.

Then I went on to the PhD program. In my admissions essay, I wrote about wanting to teach and do research. That is what I wanted to do with my PhD. It’s still what I want to do, but what seemed so simple nearly 4 years ago, does not seem as simple today. There is a wide range of the types of positions to choose from tenure track to non-tenure track, research intensive to teaching colleges, and BSW, MSW, and PhD programs. Among all of these options though, one thing remains clear to me. I want to be at a school where I have the ability to teach in programs that emphasize accessibility. And I’m not just talking about accessibility in terms of ability. I’m talking about in terms of day, evening, online, and weekend classes or some variation. I was only able to obtain my education because of weekend and evening classes and I want to make sure I pay that opportunity forward to others. I am committed to teaching on the day, time, and locations that make it possible to bring educational opportunities to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity.

Disheartened in Tampa

I’ve been pondering my SSWR experience since returning from Tampa last week. I attend only a few sessions as I was also on a mini-vacation with my family. As a lover of research and applied research, I love the SSWR conference. However, I left Tampa last Sunday feeling a little disheartened. I attended a session where a prominent social work researcher lumped cultural healing practices in the same category as reparative and primal scream therapy. He made bold assumptions and offensive remarks about cultural healing practices such as Reiki, Ayurveda, and acupuncture. At one point, I was embarrassed of his lack of cultural awareness and his ignorance. As he preceded to rail against these practices, calling them bogus, encouraging lawsuits against MSWs who practice these techniques, he began to show screenshots of MSW practitioners who practice some of these techniques. As he went through each slide, he mocked these people and the audience roared with laugher. At one point, I thought of walking out, but I needed to see if anyone would bring up the cultural relevance of these practices. No one did!

I wanted to call him out. I wanted to say something, but here’s the thing: He’s a prominent researcher with several important positions. The power he holds kept me silent. I’m angry at myself for allowing the power to matter.

My issue isn’t specifically with his lack of belief in any types of alternative medicine. I am a notorious skeptic of non-Western medicine even as I have a partner who is studying holistic healing practices. I have four main complaints about this presentation and his power. First, he failed to understand  the differences between cultural practices (i.e. acupuncture, Shamanism, Reiki, and Ayurveda) versus alternative therapies (i.e. reparative, primal scream, rebirthing, etc.). By lumping them together as the same types of practice, I question his understanding of the various methods. Second, his use of the word “bogus” to describe the alternative practices makes me question his ability to logically argue against them. Rather than presenting evidence against these, he used incendiary words. That’s just academically weak.  Third, displaying the website of his MSW colleagues to mock them is an ad hominem attack and/or appeal to ridicule which are logical fallacies. Furthermore, by mocking these social work practitioners, he appears to disregard NASW Code of Ethics 2.1a and 2.1b of treating colleagues with respect and avoiding unwarranted negative criticism of colleagues in front of other professionals. Finally, I take issue with the power he holds. As a person who sits on a number of editorial boards of professional journals and  grant reviewer, he hold a lot of power in determining the research that gets funded and published. I have great concern with someone who gets to be a “decider” who cannot logically and professionally argue his opinion but instead chooses to present it as evidence. I wonder how this affects his decision-making in the review process.  I left SSWR disheartened by the fact that so much power is held by such a person.

Privilege of learning

The new term of classes starts on Saturday. I’m going to begin class with a reminder about the privilege of education and learning. I want to remind students that they have the privilege of coming to class on time, giving presentations, taking part in discussion, writing papers, reading articles, completing 500 practicum hours, having opportunities that others–the wait-listed, the rejected, the unknowns–do not. A master’s education is a privilege that many people is the United States and abroad do not receive. I hope that students start this term with enthusiasm for attending class, presenting material, developing and expressing ideas, and enjoying their learning opportunities rather than disdain for the work of obtaining an education.

Cultural competency and othering

One inherent assumption in many of the definitions about cultural competence, is that we are to teach, learn, understand other cultures so that we know how to work with them. The issue begins with this “we.” Who is the “we?” An issue with cultural competence is the assumption that workers need training to work with the “other” or policies need grooming to make them cultural sensitive to be acceptable to all.  This “othering” is problematic for me. This “othering” is similar to the concept of stigmatization. By placing separate efforts/classes/trainings in cultural competency, we are stigmatizing the work with different population groups.

It makes me think about how unwelcoming professions, classes, and work places must be to these “others” if we have special classes and training on how to work with THEM.  According to Link and Phelan, “labeled persons are placed in distinct categories to separate ‘us’ from ‘them'” which is what we are doing by creating separateness in teaching cultural competency.

It  is well understood that the focus on cultural competence is to bring attention to the historical lack of focus on anything other than white, middle-class, male values in order to serve a wider population in the most effective and pertinent manner. However, when we teach how to work with the other, I wonder if we are teaching that others do not belong. So, my question is how do we incorporate all types of diversity throughout our education in order to prevent “othering?” Not specific classes on cultural competence or diversity, but inherently and explicitly acknowledge in all practice, methods, and research classes the differences and similarities in working with a broad or distinct population. The prevention of “othering” groups may increase the inclusion of more diversity within the professions which will continue to increase the mainstreaming of cultural competencies in general education and training.

For-Profit Colleges aka Career Colleges

I’m liking all the attention for-profit colleges are getting from Washington. It’s an issue that has been bothering me for many years. Here’s a post I wrote back in 2007 at my other site:

Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times. It’s about the rise in for-profit private colleges and the problems students are having. This is another subject that I am quite passionate about. As lower-skill jobs are being eliminated and dislocated workers need retraining, we are seeing a rise in these for-profit colleges that cater to adult learners. I think some of the recruiting tactics are borderline predatory because they mislead low-income individuals into believing they will obtain their degree and a high paying job. But the problem is that many of these “schools” are accredited to qualify students for financial aid and giving out degrees, but they are not accredited by a professional association. For example, my college is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and/or some regional variation and the social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This means that my degree is social work meets the quality standards set out by the CSWE. It also means that my degree is valid and accepted by employers and other colleges nationwide (and worldwide). Now, let’s take the the University of Phoenix (the subject of the Times article). They are accredited by the U.S. Dept. of Education and/or some regional variation, but not with Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business which is the accrediting agency for business schools. So, when a student leaves U of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree that person may have a difficult time getting a job in business because their degree is not valid with the AACSB. They may also have difficulty in getting any of those credits transfered to a traditional college. So, then they are left with thousands of dollars in students loans and no high paying job. It’s sad. It’s worse when I know someone is enrolled in such a program and there isn’t anything I can do to help them. It goes back to the old adage that if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

Professionalization

As I was sipping my coffee this morning, reading my way through my Google reader, I was happy to see so many stories on International Women’s Day. Granted, my Google reader is stacked with feminist bloggers and organizations working to end gender based violence so it was bound to be that way. Inevitably, many of the stories surround the issue of gender based violence. I started noticing the different methods of addressing gender based violence–service provision or macro-level change. These are not mutually exclusive nor all inclusive. Just two areas on a continuum.

Many of the service provision stories come out of the United States whereas macro-level stories tend to come from abroad. This seems to be a common theme around issues of social change. I’m taking a social welfare history class right now. We are currently discussing the professionalization of social work. It’s something my cohort has been discussing for the last year and half.  What did social work lose by choosing professionalization?

In the U.S., professionalization has moved social work through social reform to social work through social service. I think the definition of social work as social service provision has narrowed the field–in thought, in action, and in development of social workers. We have plenty of micro-practitioners interested in providing individual service and a dearth of macro thinkers to develop innovative ideas for social change. I’m not saying we don’t need both because I truly believe micro-practitioners are important to social work practice. However, I’d love to see a lot more focus on macro level changes. More social workers interested in what is now considered radical practice.