Teaching and learning about race, racism, and Whiteness : towards anti-racist social work education




Olcoń, Katarzyna Jadwiga

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Inadequate attention to race, racism, and Whiteness in social work education limits the profession’s ability to effectively prepare students to work with racial and ethnic minority groups, and undermines our commitment to furthering social justice. Guided by critical race theory and critical Whiteness theory, this three-article dissertation contributes to the social work education discourse on engaging students in critical dialogues on race, racism, and Whiteness. The first article systematically reviewed prior literature on the range and efficacy of social work education approaches to teaching about racial and ethnic diversity. The review revealed that while many studies reported positive student learning outcomes, as a whole, the studies lacked methodological rigor and sound theoretical grounding. The field thus lacks an intentional and systematic approach to teaching and evaluating student learning outcomes particularly related to race, racism, and Whiteness. The second study utilized ethnographic observations, analysis of reflective journals, and in-depth interviews with 19 U.S. college students who participated in a study abroad program in Ghana to examine their learning and meaning-making related to the history of racial oppression. The following themes were identified through inductive thematic analysis: (1) the suffering and resilience of African and African descent people; (2) “It’s still happening today”; (3) “You don’t learn about that in school”; and (4) remembrance, equity, and healing. Students expressed a frustration with significant knowledge gaps from the U.S. education system and believed a forthright education and dialogue about the history of racial injustice is a first step toward creating a racially equitable society. Using a case study design with elements of narrative data analysis, the third article examined experiences and responses of six White social work students learning about Whiteness in Ghana. Their stories exposed varied responses to “confronting” Whiteness, including avoidance and withdrawal, shock and defensiveness, humility, transformation, and goals of becoming anti-racism advocates. The researcher, a White co-creator of these stories, examined her positionality and experiences relating to the students during the research process. Recommendations for social work education, research, and practice are discussed with particular focus on anti-racism pedagogy and reflective, experiential, and emotional domains of learning.



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