I promise to you at the outset of this article that this isn’t going to be another diatribe by a whining social work student about the gaps in his education, the soaring costs of tuition or any of the other number of things that a student could whine about. I want to draw your attention instead to an insidious problem that is infecting the “Academy.”
This isn’t my problem or your problem; it’s our problem. What is this problem? you ask. Well, pull up a comfortable chair, clear some time from your busy schedule and let me tell you what I see happening. As a developing individual who is gaining the necessary tools and experience to transform from a social work student into a social work professional I am acutely aware of all the nuances that I am exposed to.
Our noble profession has roots that stretch deep into the soil of antiquity. Our early leaders and pioneers Mary Richmond and Jane Addams thought outside the box, they were controversial, they were cutting edge, they were revolutionaries. Of that we can be absolutely sure. Before the 1915 Conference on Corrections and Charities the question wasn’t even decided whether social work was a valid profession.
Now that this question has been answered, we face a new threat in the hallowed halls of social work and that is nothing less than the gentrification and stratification of our profession. There are clear lines of demarcation being imposed upon our profession and it is doing damage and will continue to do so until we say and do something. The lines that are being drawn place the developing social work student into a clearly defined camp with roles, rules and social norms.
On one side of the arena we have the macro social workers, community organizers and administrators and on the other side we have the micro social workers, clinicians and licensed social workers. The laws of taxonomy give our world shape and form and definition but the creation of two sub fields within our sacred profession is ripping our field in half. The schools are becoming recruiting fields where you feel almost forced to make a choice even before the ink is dry on your admissions contract. The micro teachers bash the macro and vice versa and the developing student feels caught in a web but more importantly one feels the pull to make a choice. I have sat in classes and was actually afraid to tell the professor what my field of interest is because I didn’t want to offend them.
In our MSW program we have a foundation and concentration year, as do most schools. At the end of the foundation year the student has to make a choice; this choice will literally lock him into a trajectory for the rest of his/her career. At our MSW orientation the heads of the Micro and Macro department come with the most charismatic and flowery speeches; you begin to feel this tremendous amount of pressure. What if I want to do both? What if I don’t want to be locked into your pedantic self-created world, what if I want to break out of your box and change the world? What if I want to be a community organizer all day and treat clients with CBT at night? Why are you limiting me?
We can no longer deny that our profession is split in half. I have seen the arguments on the Internet, I have witnessed the heated discussions and I am feeling the pressure to make a choice every day I am in school. We need to find a way to erase or at the very least soften these lines of distinction. When we define something we limit its scope, we force it to behave a certain way to conform to an ideal. We are robbing our profession by forcing students to “choose a side” and we are creating division and discord within our field. I don’t have the answer or the solution to this problem; it will take a much greater mind than mine to fix this. This problem is reaching an epidemic proportion and it’s time that we looked inward to address this issue before it is too late. Jane Addams didn’t conform, why should I and why are you making me?
Reprinted with permission from Social Justice Solutions. Kurt A. Wellman is NASW-CA Student Director South and can be reached at email@example.com.