“We hail Jane Addams as the founder and pioneer of social work when in fact a story like Jane Addams’ would not be possible today.
Jane Addams did not have a social work degree nor did she need a license to advocate, help people organize, or connect them with community resources. As a matter of fact, in today’s society Jane Addams would probably major in gender studies, political science, public policy, business or law.”
I have graduated from accredited undergraduate and graduate programs in Social Work. I have taught and currently teach Social Work Students at the undergraduate and graduate levels in topics ranging from foundations of interpersonal practice, diversity and social justice in social work, to intergroup dialogue and advanced topics in macro social work.
Many of the original writings I have shared here at Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian have been incorporated as required reading in syllabi in Social Work classrooms around the country, as well as for workshops for social justice education by trainers, educators and consultants. I know this from direct messages I receive from faculty and professional practitioners, as well as all the .edu referrals that backlink to this site on a regular basis.
Currently, I work with students, faculty, and staff in institutions of higher education on college campuses, as well as with community groups, and secondary schools creating, planning, and implementing experiential activities and projects that advance diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. This work has institutional implications related to policy and other forms of systems change in a variety of areas.
In many ways I have found my voice, and vocation in Social Work. However, although I will always identify as a Social Worker, with my current lack of full licensure, I am not recognized as a Social Worker within the profession, regardless of the reality of the details I’ve listed here.
Yet, my thoughts and perspectives are continually utilized, and on occasion, sought out by credentialed and accredited persons, institutions and publications. Upon their request I once submitted an essay to a publication sharing my personal and professional experiences and expertise on a topic. In my bio I identified myself as a “Social Worker, Educator, and Aspiring Humanitarian”.
Although my writings were accepted and published, it was glaringly apparent that the title of Social Worker had been edited out of my author’s bio. What is erasure. What is invalidation. I have resolved to never write for that publication again, or any publication that would ignore that aspect of my professional identity.
But at what cost? What do folks with multiple marginalized identities lose by not being represented in those spaces? What does it cost the profession, and ultimately the people the profession says it seeks to serve when those voices are missing?
For a profession whose educational curriculum by description focuses on power and privilege; that professes its commitment to empowering those who are marginalized and oppressed, there is still much self-reflective work that needs to be done to examine in impactful ways how systems of power and privilege are infused into the policies and practices of the field of Social Work which ultimately hinder and contradict the stated goals of the field.
There is much self-reflective work, and action that needs to happen that serves to name and disrupt the ways White Supremacy, Patriarchy, Capitalism, Ableism, Cissexism, and other forms of oppression influence the policies, processes, and practices of the field of Social Work in ways that limit access and full societal participation for the populations that practitioners serve, as well as the practitioners themselves, with a special focus on those with multiple marginalized identities.
Things like culturally biased tests and assessments, financial barriers to paying for supervision and licensing exam prep materials, students’ real struggles between having to eat and pay their expenses or complete field hours, among many other challenges all point to roadblocks to equitable access to full participation in the field.
I recognize that this isn’t a mainstream position, but then again, I’m not a mainstream person. I’m a person with a mix of multiple marginalized identities (and some privileged ones too) with experiences of being outside of what is defined as “acceptable” and “professional” in many respects.
I wrote Degrees Are Not The Final Say after listening to the voices of students who grappled with feelings of disillusionment after experiencing harm from credentialed, licensed folks in educational environments.
“It’s also important to acknowledge the people who have done, and are doing the work without the access that can come with credentials and degrees for a variety of reasons which limit their progress, and important for instructors to consider that whether they use the academically specific terms or not, marginalized students are often well-aware of the issues that impact their lives and communities long before they enter your classrooms.
The credentials are great, but it doesn’t end there.
Degrees are not the final say.”
And neither is licensing. Just as GRE test scores are not necessarily guaranteed indicators of the professional success of a person in a different field, I’ve had enough experiences with picking up the pieces from harm done by credentialed people to students and clients with multiple marginalized identities to understand that a certification does not a Social Worker make.
Still, I cannot ignore the systemic advantage or disadvantage of experiences that are dependent on licensure status.
Social Work will always be an important part of my story of working for social justice, and I feel affirmed knowing that I have been able to use that lens and training in a variety of different areas, with a specific focus on using social justice education as a tool for liberation for a variety of ends including but not limited to:
Explaining systems of oppression to folks with marginalized identities and experiences with being on the receiving end of victim blaming that illuminates the reality that those systems of oppression are organized and intentional and the oppression that they experience is not their fault.
Explaining systems of oppression to folks with privileged identities to highlight areas of indifference and complicity; to illuminate internalized dominance and superiority so that they might discover that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That they too have been lied to through the misinformation they have heard about their supposed superiority.
Examining our collective mix within systems of advantage and disadvantage and how we can leverage our power to work for equity.
In terms of my professional identity, I suppose I’ll resolve to ask the people I serve how they might define me.
Oh, and please continue to share and link back to any of my original articles or curated resources you wish fellow educators and practitioners. While I always encourage visitors to locate themselves in the topic of these notes in terms of their agency, complicity, or impact, this note is intended to be a call for a professional internal reflection about the systems and policies we have in place, rather than an indictment of any individual.
For additional engagement with this, check out these articles from Social Work Helper:
Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing (note: there’s some mention of Dr. Steve Perry in this post. I do not know him personally, but I have disagreed with his past messaging on the politics of respectability.)
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones