Combining Human Diversity and Social Justice Education: A Conceptual Framework

By Snyder, Cindy; Peeler, Janelle et al. | Journal of Social Work Education, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Combining Human Diversity and Social Justice Education: A Conceptual Framework


Snyder, Cindy, Peeler, Janelle, May, J. Dean, Journal of Social Work Education


SOCIAL WORK EDUCATORS have a professional responsibility to prepare students who can provide competent services in an increasingly culturally diverse society, and they have additional mandates to prepare students who can promote social and economic justice (Council on Social Work Education, 2001; Gil, 1998; Van Soest, 1996). A primary tenet of our framework is that in order to help students aspire toward actualizing these twin goals, it is necessary for them to develop an understanding of the sources and dynamics of injustice and oppression that are interwoven with cultural diversity (Garcia & Van Soest, 2006; Van Soest & Garcia, 2003). The definition of cultural diversity, as that term is used in this framework refers to differences between groups with distinctive characteristics and social identities based on ethnicity, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and class--as well as other attributes (Van Soest, 2003). It has been noted that social work education has not yet formulated an explicit educational framework that combines human diversity and social justice education, but academicians are trying out new approaches (Van Soest, Canon, & Grant, 2000). Building on these efforts, this article presents a conceptual framework for culturally relevant practice that integrates a human diversity and social justice focus within the context of our program's human behavior in the social environment (HBSE) courses. What we believe to be new about this framework is that it synthesizes the ideas of many scholars who have preceded us in a manner that effectively supports students as it challenges them to discuss topics that, at times, can raise cognitive dissonance and conflict. In this way, students learn skills that help them manage and work through--rather than avoid--the potentially unpleasant dynamics that may emerge as they engage with human diversity/social justice course material.

Outline of the Framework

Phase One: Introducing the Framework

We begin by introducing students to the key concepts of our framework in an effort to develop a shared vocabulary aimed at providing a foundation for raising consciousness about the sources and dynamics of injustice and oppression that are interwoven with cultural diversity. We note our model is heavily influenced by Bell (1997) and Harro (2000a, 2000b), who have both observed that the conscious appreciation of differences--a key goal in diversity work--needs to be inextricably tied to social justice by foregrounding the ways in which privilege and power are inequitably distributed in our society. We mention that we have drawn on the work of scholars such as Bell and Harro, as well as the work of many others, to guide our own thinking as we synthesized previous scholarship into a conceptual framework we could call our own. What seems to be unique about this framework is that it appropriately supports students as they undertake the challenge of actively engaging with topics that may initially make them uncomfortable.

We note that our framework recognizes a complex interaction of multiple cultural social identities each individual must negotiate every day and the continuum of harm and privilege that these identities bestow (Griffin, 1997; Reed, Newman, Suarez, & Lewis, 1997; Tatum, 1997). We agree with Griffin (1997) that it is not fruitful to argue about which type of oppression is the most damaging. For example, additive conceptualizations of oppression most often result in the ranking of oppressions; from this perspective one might attempt to determine whether racism, ableism, sexism, or heterosexism is more oppressive for a Latina lesbian who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. It has been pointed out that such additive conceptualizations actually work against empowerment and coalition building, two of the prime tools for resisting oppression (Bell, 1997). They also hide the complex, dynamic interactions within and among oppressions and create divisiveness among oppressed populations. …

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Combining Human Diversity and Social Justice Education: A Conceptual Framework
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