Education: Institutionalizing Antiracism in Social Work Education
The vicious and often highly publicized police and vigilante killings of unarmed Black men, women, and children—including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and many others—resulted in a long hot summer of discontent and an extended season of social unrest in 2020. The national and global responses to the weaponizing of police against the Black community resulted in prolonged protests calling for the valuing of Black lives, the need for police reform, and the systemic changes necessary for racial justice. Hate speech and uncivilized discourse from elected officials fueled the flames of racism, violence, and injustice.
People of good intentions and more noble conduct took the good fight to the streets, voting polls, places of employment, classrooms, courtrooms, and beyond. White supremacy and racism in the United States and around the world are being challenged everywhere. This is the work of antiracism, which refers to policies, practices, and ideas aimed at reducing racial inequity in many different areas, including socioeconomic status, employment, incarceration rates, health care, housing, etc.1,2 Antiracism is an active process that affects individuals, communities, and societies.2
While emphasizing the importance of critical race theory (CRT) in the United States, Gillborn3 argues that research and policy efforts aimed at promoting antiracism in the United Kingdom proved insufficient to address the increase in racist policies in education. Here in the United States, the case was being made for the important linkage between CRT and antiracism. Research and policy initiatives that discount CRT will fall short of promoting antiracism. This may be more apparent to those who resist racial justice than to those who acknowledge the need for systemic and structural changes to combat institutional racism. The evidence of this is the broad attack that is now underway to defund schools that include CRT in the curriculum and the classroom. Aveling4 documents the failure of leadership among school principals to identify racism in education as a barrier to engaging in antiracism in education. Another way of saying this is that you can’t show what you can’t see, you can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t lead where you won’t go. Educators need to teach and lead through a new lens. We need to institutionalize antiracism to address institutional racism.
There’s a long history of calling for antiracist education as a way to move beyond multicultural education.5,6 This aided researchers and policymakers in promoting antiracism in educational settings. Davis7 argues that we must move beyond celebrating diversity to challenging disparities. As mentioned, racial disparities are widely documented in health, education, income, housing, voting rights, incarceration, criminal justice, and more. We’ve seen these disparities in the response to communities affected by disasters and pandemics such as Hurricane Katrina and the COVID-19 pandemic. People of color were more likely than others to test positive for COVID and less likely to be able to work remotely. They were less likely to receive treatment and more likely to die. Even now, they’re less likely to receive the vaccine and boosters.
What have we learned in the past that can aid us today? Social work educators have explored ways to teach antiracism. Curran, Battle, and Jones8 make the case for understanding the history and opportunities for challenging anti-Black racism across the social work curriculum. Deepak and Biggs9 suggested the use of intimate technology to merge YouTube videos and antiracism content based on Hurricane Katrina. Paine et al10 address the antiracism policy challenges associated with declaring racism a public health crisis. Establishing a national campaign against racism to advance the science and practice of antiracism indicates how vitally important it is for all social workers, especially those in higher education, to do the important self-work to become antiracists. Morin11 provides strategies to promote antiracism: acknowledge the reality of racism, recognize one’s prejudice, identify personal biases, learn about oneself, learn about other people, interact with people from other racial groups, take a class on diversity aimed at reducing anti-Black racism, and consider speaking with a therapist while engaging in this work.
It’s also important to make the connection between antiracism in the curriculum and the racial justice implications in the larger society. Kishimoto12 provides a definition of antiracist pedagogy. This involves “(1) incorporating the topics of race and inequality into course content, (2) teaching from an antiracist pedagogical approach, and (3) antiracist organizing within the campus and linking our efforts to the surrounding community. In other words, antiracist pedagogy is an organizing effort for institutional and social change that’s much broader than teaching in the classroom.” This resonates nicely with the Council on Social Work Education’s13 competency-based approach to education that involves knowledge, values, and skills. It also relates to our emphasis on both implicit and explicit curriculum, as well as assessments and outcomes. Together, these relate to content, pedagogy, and outcomes.
Moreover, it should be noted that our national professional organization issued a Call to Action for social workers to address institutional racism nearly 20 years ago.14 This effort was to be followed up with annual progress reports from regional chapters. More recently, “In 2020 and 2021, the Delegate Assembly of the National Association of Social Workers approved substantive amendments to the NASW Code of Ethics. These revisions took effect on June 1, 2021, and include language that addresses the importance of professional self-care as well as revisions to the Cultural Competence standard. These changes affect all social workers.”15 The NASW ethical standard regarding cultural competence now reads, “Social workers must take action against oppression, racism, discrimination, and inequities, and acknowledge personal privilege.” Additionally, the Council on Social Work Education revised the 2022 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards with a change in “Competency 3: Engage Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) in Practice.” Similarly, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare16 revised the Grand Challenges for social work to “propose to develop a model for eliminating racism by identifying evidence and practice-based interventions that will end racism and ameliorate the negative outcomes of our history of racism.” Together, these calls to action, revisions in our Code of Ethics, amendments to our Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, and the revision of our Grand Challenges represent the social work profession’s commitment to institutionalizing antiracism to eliminate racial injustice.
— DuWayne Battle, PhD, MSW, is an assistant dean, a professor of teaching, director of the Baccalaureate Social Work program, and campus coordinator of the Baccalaureate Child Welfare Education Program at Rutgers University School of Social Work. He’s the past president of NASW New Jersey Chapter and the Association of Baccalaureate Program Social Work Directors. Battle was a guest editor and reviewer for the Journal of Teaching in Social Work and reviewer for the Journal of Health and Human Services Administration. He’s the course coordinator for the “Diversity and Oppression” and “Introduction to Social Work and Social Justice” courses and developed three fully online courses and created and teaches the “Confronting Anti-Black Racism” course.
— Bernardo Hiraldo, MSW, LCSW, is an assistant professor of teaching and an associate director of field education at Rutgers University School of Social Work, Camden Campus. He started his career as an inpatient social worker at North Central Bronx Hospital in New York and went on to work in various treatment settings including day treatment program, outpatient case management services, and the psychiatric emergency room. Since 2001, Hiraldo has provided therapeutic mental health services to individuals and families.
— Eric Lock, MSW, recently was an associate teaching professor at the Rutgers University School of Social Work. He’s taught a wide variety of social welfare policy and administration courses over the past 20 years, beginning as a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, followed by lectureships at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin, before coming to Rutgers in 2016. Beginning with his doctoral work on youth development and program implementation, Lock has a diverse research background in social policy implementation, public opinion analysis, and youth development programs and organizations.
2. Cherry K. What does it mean to be anti-racist? Verywell Mind website. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-anti-racism-5071426. Updated April 17, 2023.
3. Gillborn D. Critical race theory and education: racism and anti-racism in educational theory and praxis. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 2006;27(1):11-32.
4. Aveling N. Anti-racism in schools: a question of leadership? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 2007;28(1):69-85.
5. Asare Y. The rebirth of the call for antiracism in schools: learning from the past. London Review of Education. 2022;20(1):1-6.
6. Troyna BS. Beyond multiculturalism: towards the enactment of anti-racist education in policy, provision and pedagogy. Oxford Review of Education. 1987;13(3):307-320.
7. Davis LE. Why Are They Angry With Us? Essays on Race. Lyceum Books; 2016.
8. Curran L, Battle D, Jones S. Challenging anti-Black racism across the curriculum: situating the social work legacy and moving forward. J Teach Soc Work. 2022;42(2-3):102-119.
9. Deepak AC, Biggs MJG. Intimate technology: a tool for teaching anti-racism in social work education. J Ethn Cult Divers Soc Work. 2011;20(1):39-56.
10. Paine L, de la Rocha P, Eyssallenne AP, et al. Declaring racism a public health crisis in the United States: cure, poison, or both? Front Public Health. 2021;9(67):67-84.
11. Morin A. 7 strategies to help you on your anti-racism journey. Verywell Mind website. https://www.verywellmind.com/anti-racism-strategies-5069386. Updated February 6, 2023.
12. Kishimoto K. Anti-racist pedagogy: from faculty's self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom. Race Ethn Educ. 2018;21(4):540-554.
13. Council on Social Work Education. 2022 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. https://www.cswe.org/2022-EPAS.pdf. Published 2022.
14. National Association of Social Workers. Institutional racism & the social work profession: a call to action. https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=SWK1aR53FAk%3D&portalid=0#
15. 2021 revisions to NASW Code of Ethics take effect. National Association of Social Workers Illinois Chapter website. https://www.naswil.org/post/2021-revisions-to-nasw-code-of-ethics-take-effect. Published June 4, 2021.
16. Eliminate racism. Grand Challenges for Social Work website. https://grandchallengesforsocialwork.org/eliminate-racism/