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Students create petition asking for changes to social work curriculum

| Friday, August 28, 2020

A Google Doc petition has circulated around the Saint Mary’s community calling for action and change. This petition is directed towards Saint Mary’s Social Work Department, asking for a curriculum that not only offers safety for students but also prepares them for the real world. 

“An education grounded in diverse perspectives is also essential to prepare students for fieldwork,” the petition said. “While it is important to dispel common misconceptions of the social work profession, we must discuss the capacity that well-intentioned social workers have for harm and educate students on the legitimate reasons different communities may mistrust social workers.” 

Senior Emily Oppman, a signatory of the petition, explained in an email how this information can be imperative for people to learn. “I’m not a social work major, but I am currently taking a social work class and I’m learning about just how influential social workers can be in their field— for good or bad.”

Social work, like all other majors, need to be taught not only subject matter but also how to respond to real life situations that may arrive in the workplace, Oppman said. 

“I think it’s incredibly important that social workers be educated with fully diverse and inclusive viewpoints so that they can best serve their communities,” she said. 

The petition continues to explain what students believe is necessary to prepare them for fieldwork and some of what students should be required to learn. 

“If, for example, you are working with an indigenous family, and have had no education on social workers’ historic practice of intentionally separating Native families, your education has not prepared you for fieldwork. If you are working with a nonbinary client, and do not know the importance of using correct pronouns, your education has not prepared you for fieldwork,” Oppman said. 

 Oppman addressed the need to respect diversity not only to prepare students for their future careers, but also for the improvement of the Saint Mary’s Community. 

“I think people forget sometimes that Saint Mary’s is not solely comprised of upper-middle class, white, Catholic women,” she said. “We have students coming many different backgrounds (socioeconomically, culturally, racially, etc.) and everyone’s perspective is valid and important.”

This petition isn’t being signed for the sole purpose of teaching students about jobs. Learning about people who are different from ourselves helps people grow in their understanding, Oppman said. She added that she desires students to leave Saint Mary’s as the best version of themselves.

“I love Saint Mary’s and I want the students coming out of this institution to be passionate, well-rounded, empathetic, compassionate, and intelligent individuals,” she said. 

Change can happen later in life and out on the job, but Oppman states these changes are necessary because what you learn in a classroom is what you take out into the world. “I want Saint Mary’s students to change the world for the better and that starts within the classroom setting.”

Signing the petition is a choice offered to students in and out of the social work department. It’s not something meant to hurt education, but rather enrich the diversity in the learning process, Oppman said. 

“You don’t have to be a social work major/minor or to have even taken a social work class in order to participate,” she said. “This is for the betterment of the Saint Mary’s community as a whole and the education that goes on within this institution.”

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