Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Engaging Dialogue in Our Diverse Social Work Student Body: A Multilevel Theoretical Process Model

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Engaging Dialogue in Our Diverse Social Work Student Body: A Multilevel Theoretical Process Model

Article excerpt

EDUCATING SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS in the present day requires that particular attention be paid to issues of diversity and social justice. Mandates in the code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (1999) articulate the expectations for social workers to "pursue social change, particularly on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people," as well as "act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against ... person[s], group[s], or class[es]" in our society because of social group membership (Social and Political Action, Sec. 6.04). The Council on Social Work Education's (2001) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards codifies this mandate in the statement on populations at risk and social and economic justice by emphasizing the need to "provide content related to implementing strategies to combat discrimination, oppression, and economic deprivation and to promote social and economic justice" (Educational Policy, Sec. 4.2). It specifies the importance of imparting both theoretical and practical content to students with the goal of creating a skill set that would enable them to promote and implement social change that furthers economic and social justice for all.

In order to carry out this mandate, social work educators must be equipped not only with appropriate interventions and strategies to teach such content, we must also understand the process that transpires when the content is taught, as well as the relationship between the process and the interventions taking place. Social work education does not occur in a vacuum. The very dynamics that we as social workers are committed to changing are present in our classrooms. The importance of using and directing the discourse of a diverse social work student body is paramount to the realization of the social work mission to promote social justice.

This article describes a process model that demonstrates the relationships between the conditions present in an educational environment, the strategies and interventions used to enhance and promote anti-oppression content, and the consequences that occur as a result. The model stems from an educational program called Intergroup Dialogue that was created with the purpose of improving intergroup relations (Stephan & Stephan, 2001). The strength of this process model is that it not only helps to understand the various components in this learning process, it highlights the relationships these components have with each other. Although originating from a particular educational program, this model can help social work educators become more aware of the process that occurs when teaching social justice-oriented course content and evaluate interventions that can impede or promote student learning. Based on qualitative data from intergroup dialogue participants, this model builds on previous research that has linked outcomes such as cognition and attitude change to the intergroup dialogue process (Gurin, Peng, Lopez, & Nagda, 1999; Zuniga, Nagda, Sevig, Thompson, & Dey, 1995) and research that has begun to address elements of the process itself (Nagda, Kim, & Truelove, 2004; Vasquez-Scalera, 1999; Yeakley, 1998; Zuniga, Nagda, & Sevig, 2002).

Intergroup Dialogue

Intergroup dialogues are facilitated face-to-face meetings between members of two or more social identity groups that have a history of power differential because of society's over-valuation or devaluation of particular groups (Zuniga et al., 1995). The purpose of intergroup dialogues is to help students understand the historical roots and potential conflicts that result from social injustice and become aware of the societal structures that keep such injustice in place. Facilitators lead participants in semi-structured small-group activities that promote dialogue and intergroup interaction. Examples of intergroup dialogue include: White people and people of color; men and women; lesbians, gay men, bisexual and heterosexual people, Christians, Muslims, and Jews; working, middle, and upper socio-economic classes. …

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