Katherine Walbam, assistant professor in the Salem State School of Social Work, recently published an article called, “Preparing Students for the Profession: Examining Power Within Social Work” in Social Work Education.
The article explores the profession of social work and the power social workers hold, as well as ways in which students and practitioners might unintentionally contribute to systemic oppression in social work practices. Walbam focuses on the social work curriculum and the perspective of educators.
She writes about the ability of educators to be reflexive in the ways they teach and cover content regarding power, specifically how it relates to everyday tasks of the profession since social workers are often working with the most vulnerable populations. The article also focuses on the importance of helping students understand their own power, as well as creating a safe space for students to recognize and challenge their biases.
Walbam believes that all students, coming from different backgrounds and experiences, have assumptions and biases that they bring to the classroom. She says it is easy for students, as well as social work professionals, to recognize that systemic oppression is wrong, but can often “unintentionally recreate and reinforce hierarchies of inequity through common social work policies and practices.” Her hope with the article is to provide educators with strategies to be able to address the conversation of power and give students the context and tools to be able to acknowledge that power and learn to hold themselves accountable as practitioners.
Walbam wrote the chapter with her friend and colleague Heather Howard of Florida Atlantic University. The pair met during their doctoral program, and this is the second article they have written together. The idea for this article came to them a few years ago, and they presented on the topic at the Council on Social Work Education in fall of 2020. But, Walbam says, they knew it was important to be writing this article now.
Both Walbam and Howard make a point to share their stories about instances in the past when they, as clinicians, acted upon their own biases. They encourage other educators to do the same. Walbam says she feels it is important for educators to “be humble, and hold ourselves accountable in order to help students feel more comfortable confronting their own biases so that we can all do better in the future.” Walbam feels it is equally important to acknowledge that both she and Howard are white women, and since their identities fall among the mainstream dominant group, Walbam says, “there is a lot we don’t know. This is just our contribution to the conversation.”
With this article published, Walbam is returning to another research interest, children with sensory processing disorder, and the relationships they have with their primary caregivers. Her new work will examine caregivers’ decisions to send their children back to school during the pandemic, particularly for students who were receiving services from the school.
Congratulations Professor Walbam, and best of luck on all future endeavors!
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