In the entrepreneurial spirit, Professor Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes and Professor Stephanie Berzin took leadership roles in the establishment of the GSSW macro program: Social Innovation and Leadership Program and Collaborative (SIL). more »
Empathy is a social worker's most powerful tool. To effectively help a victim of abuse or a spouse coping with her husband's Alzheimer's, the social worker starts by first assuring the client that he or she knows where they're coming from and exactly what they're going through.
"There's therapeutic value in feeling understood," says Professor Paul Kline. "In discovering that your social worker appreciates the uniqueness of your experiences."
But what if you are a person of color and your social worker is white, or you are gay and your social worker is straight? Do our differences as human beings—race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status—ultimately prevent social workers from seeing the world through their client's eyes? Can you stand in another's shoes if the shoes do not fit?
To overcome these challenges, the Graduate School of Social Work embarked on a bold initiative to bring diversity to the forefront of a GSSW education.
In the past, the traditional way to approach diversity in a MSW program was to focus the bulk of cross-cultural training on one or two courses. That simply was not enough, says Kline, the chair of the GSSW Diversity Committee. "In fact, all of our courses need to address this important dimension of social work education."
The Diversity Committee was born of an honest assessment of the state of diversity at the school and a reexamination of how well the curriculum prepared students to understand the complexities of race, gender, class, and power.
Now diversity has become a cornerstone of the school's long-term strategic plan. "We're re-imagining how we might transform what we teach, how we teach, and, in fact, how we carry out all or our important work as a community to more fully prepare ourselves for effective social work practice in a diverse world," says Kline.
Ruth McRoy, former Associate Dean of Research at the University of Texas Austin School of Social Work and now a consultant for GSSW's diversity initiative, challenges the school to "go beyond sensitivity and awareness and focus on undoing disparities and oppression."
With the right kind of social work education—one that enthusiastically embraces the diversity of human experience and the complexity of human development—students can "use empathy and understanding as a foundation for even more significant change," says Kline. They can work to reverse the deeply ingrained inequalities that prevent their clients from realizing their full potential.