Support of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Content in Social Work Education: Results from National Surveys of U.S. and Anglophone Canadian Faculty

Article excerpt

SOCIAL WORKERS IN THE United States and Canada have an ethical obligation to be competent in interventions and to promote social justice and empowerment among marginalized and oppressed groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals (Canadian Association of Social Workers [CASW], 2005; National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 1999). Yet, homophobia and heterosexism are well documented among health and human service practitioners (Berkman & Zinberg, 1997; Cochran, Peavy, & Cauce, 2007; Harris, Nightengale, & Owen, 1995; Krieglstein, 2003; Peterson, 1996; Swank & Raiz, 2008). These negative attitudes among social work practitioners have been attributed in part to the lack of LGBT content in professional social work education (Bergh & Crisp, 2004; Longres & Fredriksen, 2000; Morrow & Messinger, 2006).

Although curricula concerning gender, race, and cultural diversity have a foothold in social work education, scholars in either country have observed that discrimination and oppression related to sexual orientation and gender identity are commonly not addressed (Aronson, 1995; CASSW Task Force on Gay/ Lesbian/Bi-Sexual/Transgendered (GLBT) Issues, Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work [CASSW], (1) 2002; CASWE Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Caucus, 2008; Morrow, 1996; O'Neill, 1995; Stainton & Swift, 1996; Woodford & Bella, 2003). Similar concerns have been raised in Great Britain (Logan & Kershaw, 1994; Trotter & Gilchrist, 1996).

As a consequence, many social work students may not have adequate knowledge and skills for competent practice with LGBT populations (Camilleri & Ryan, 2006; Longres & Fredriksen, 2000; Morrow & Messinger, 2006; Logie, Bridge, & Bridge, 2007), although they are becoming increasingly supportive of lesbians and gay men (Brownlee et al., 2005; Logie et al., 2007). One study found that nearly half of a sample of graduate students perceived insufficient training in their professional degree programs and reported moderate levels of competence to serve LGBT individuals and their families (Logie et al., 2007). Another concern identified in this literature is that the heterosexist bias of social work theory, literature, and teaching often goes unchallenged because heterosexuality remains the reference point for all other sexualities (Johnston, 2002; Logan & Kershaw, 1994; Van Voorhis & Wagner, 2002).

Current social work education accreditation policies and standards in the United States and in Canada mandate the inclusion of content and curriculum related to diversity (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2008; CASSW, 2007a, 2007b). The accreditation policies within each country explicitly identify sexual orientation as a dimension of diversity; furthermore, the CSWE standards also explicate gender identity and expression. Both accrediting bodies direct schools to prioritize diversity in other ways, such as through field opportunities, faculty composition, and the consideration of candidates' experience and expertise in regard to diversity in hiring decisions for faculty positions. Within both countries much support exists on a policy level for the inclusion of curriculum and provision of field education opportunities related to the LGBT community. Although these policy mandates are important, support among social work faculty is essential because they are charged with achieving curricular objectives.

This article reports the results of cross-sectional surveys of U.S. and Anglophone Canadian MSW social work faculty and their support of content on LGBT populations and related types of oppression. This research extends earlier work conducted in 1992 in the United States about faculty support for content on diverse populations and types of oppression, including content addressing gay men, lesbians, homophobia, and heterosexism (Gutierrez, Fredriksen, & Soifer, 1999). …