Editor's Note: Teaching Tomorrow's Social Justice Advocates
As I read and edited this month's cover story, I wondered whether social work professors could really teach students what social justice is or whether that understanding is innate. I concluded that it is indeed something professors can teach and are teaching in a very robust way in today's social work classrooms.
The task of teaching social justice is one that may have become more challenging over recent decades as clinical practice has become more dominant in the profession. It falls to professors to impress upon their students not only what social justice is but also how it figures in the students' future careers as social workers. As the cover story's author, Sue Coyle, MSW, says, "There is sometimes a misconception that social justice is a 'macro' value, to be addressed only at the larger, systemic level. As a result, some clinical students enter with a narrow understanding of their professional responsibility."
According to Anne C. Deepak, PhD, LMSW, an associate professor and MSW admissions coordinator at Monmouth University, "Clinical students are more drawn to individual, micro interactions. As a result, you can lose that analysis that includes larger issues of social justice. That's the challenge. How do you help them to see that it is relevant to the work they are doing and to their clinical practice?"
Another major challenge professors are facing in teaching social justice is understanding the diversity of student origins. As Coyle explains, "Given the vocal perception of millennials and 24/7 access to news, one might assume that today's more traditional students would be equally opinionated and informed. However, that is not necessarily true. Instead, many students (particularly undergraduates) come to the classroom with a narrow scope of understanding and only partially formed opinions." Professors are tasked with understanding a wide range of backgrounds, making social justice meaningful to them, and a cornerstone of the profession.
One thing is certain, it is in these social work classrooms where many of tomorrow's social justice advocates are learning what social justice is and finding their voice, and we have social work educators to partially thank for that. We need social justice advocates like the ones that were at Charlottesville, and the millions of others who have marched over decades challenging injustice and refusing to be silent.