International Programs: Advancing Human Rights and Social Justice for African American Students

By Acquaye, Lucinda A.; Crewe, Sandra Edmonds | Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

International Programs: Advancing Human Rights and Social Justice for African American Students


Acquaye, Lucinda A., Crewe, Sandra Edmonds, Journal of Social Work Education


HUMAN RIGHTS AND social justice are key values of the social work profession. These values bridge the divide between national and international agendas. The often-quoted African Ubuntu proverb, "I am because you are, and you are because I am," provides a clarion call for social workers to understand the global community that awaits our service. Yet the international experience is beyond the grasp of many social workers. This fact is particularly true for many African Americans who are more often first-generation college students with more limited financial resources. In addition to resource limitations, many African Americans are also strongly committed to fighting the injustices that have resulted in socioeconomic disparities. Thus, many African Americans and other oppressed populations are particularly mindful of the need to ensure human rights and social justice at home and are perhaps less inclined to fully embrace the opportunities afforded by globalized causes. Historical activism such as the Double V Campaign by African American World War II veterans highlights the conundrum of African American veterans returning home to a country where they resumed their second-class status. The Double V campaign proclaimed the dual importance of victory abroad and victory at home (Aizenman, 2004). This movement ensuring human rights and social justice was not limited to the home front but expanded internationally as well. The fight to end apartheid in South Africa is another example of the consciousness demonstrated by African Americans to support campaigns that supported disinvestment in South Africa. African Americans were in the forefront of this movement (Nesbitt, 2004). These examples demonstrate that there is concern about injustice both nationally and internationally; however, organized mission-guided approaches are needed to create the bridge.

Designing a social work program that incorporates internationalization requires thoughtful consideration of realities both at home and abroad. This is the case for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), where eradicating generational poverty is both professional and personal. Thus, a pedagogical focus that uses the international experience to simultaneously prepare students to become better practitioners at home and abroad is preferred to an either-or approach. Mindful of the need for a culturally informed design based on the aforementioned factors, the Howard University School of Social Work designed an international service learning program in Cape Town, South Africa, around the theme of human rights and social justice. This article provides an overview of the program with specific emphasis on program design addressing barriers to participation of African American MSW and PhD social work students. It is hoped that the model presented in this case study can be used to increase participation of African Americans and other underrepresented groups. The authors conclude by making recommendations to enhance globalization in social work education by developing more programs to attract African American students, which can ultimately be replicated by other underrepresented minority groups.

International Education and Persons of Color

According to the 2010 edition of Open Doors Fast Facts, an annual publication by the Institute of International Education, the number of students participating in overseas programming continues to increase significantly each year. More are particularly choosing nontraditional destinations, with South Africa ranking highly on this list, receiving 4,160 American college students (Institute of International Education, 2010). According to the report for the 2008/2009 academic year, 260,327 students participated in study abroad programs around the world (Institute of International Education, 2010, p. 2). The high number of participants indicated by this report reflects the strong commitment and value of international academic programs in preparing students to live and work in an ever-growing global society. …

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