Advocating for Macro Social Work
By Rachel L. West
The Political Social Worker
“I wanted to be Jane Addams but I found myself in the world of Mary Richmond.” – Dr. Jack Rothman, June 2013
On June 14th I attend Macro in a Micro World: What the 2012 Rothman Report Means for Social Change Hopefulness. The event was organized by The Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN), a student organized group at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work.
The purpose of the event was to gather macro social workers from around the United States to discuss the Rothman Report and to come up with solutions to the problems highlighted in the report. If you haven’t you can read the report here.
The discussion was broken up into three parts. First was the panel discussion with Dr. Loretta Pyles and Dr. Scott Harding which was followed by a Q&A. After the Q&A the attendees took part in an Open Space exercise.
By my own estimate there were about thirty people in attendance and I was later told that there
were six different schools of social work being represented (Update: per MSWSN the total count was 48 people from 15 different schools). I was amazed how many people from out of state were present (Hunter College is located in Manhattan). There were students from Indiana, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. I was happy to see that there was a large contingent from my Alma Mater, Adelphi University.
Before the discussion began MSWSN member Andrew Calderaro read some remarks that Dr. Jack Rothman had sent. Dr. Rothman, who teaches in California, was regretfully unable to attend the event.
Dr. Pyles and Dr. Harding started off the discussion by giving an overview of the Rothman Report. They both talked of the path they took into macro social work and their experiences in the field within the framework of the Rothman Report.
Dr. Harding mentioned the lack of academic journals dedicated to macro social work and how that makes it difficult for community practice social workers to get published. He stated that there is a lot of gatekeeping around what is considered legitimate social work.
Dr. Pyles mentioned that the University she teaches at had to get a waiver from the CSWE for her to teach because she has a Ph.D. is social work but not an MSW (according to CSWE policy professors must have an MSW in order to teach classes in a social work program even if their Ph.D. or Doctorate is in the field). This policy poses further obstacles to getting more macro focused instructors hired.
Dr. Pyles also spoke about the CSWE being more clinically driven as well as social work moving away from its social justice roots. She lamented the profession’s embrace the philosophy that individuals should pull themselves up by their bootstraps; an ideology that is not congruent with macro practice. Dr. Harding also discussed the movement within the US for privatization and how this is impacting the social work profession at large. There is a push in the country to cut back on government welfare programs and to let corporations pick up the slack.
There was a lot of concern from students in the room (and from those surveyed in the Rothman Report) about not having access to proper training with regard to macro work at their schools or in their field placements. There is a sense that students are entering social work programs with an interest in community practice but are frustrated because they cannot get more than a couple of classes on the subject and most internships are direct practice. Dr. Pyles mentioned students may need to look outside of social work academia for training in community organizing.
Dr. Harding said that students need to be a part of changing the culture within the profession. One attendant said that it took the student body at his university lobbied the social work administration for thirty years before they agreed to offer a class on oppression. The message was that, while it is frustrating, we need to remember that creating change a process. It will not happen overnight and if universities are ever going to be more responsive to the needs of macro social work students, those very students need to organize and put pressure on the administration.
Dr. Harding also mentioned during the Q&A that the social work profession needs to be more involved in the labor movement and this includes unionizing ourselves.
Going back to the need for improved education and mentorship opportunities; it was suggested that ACOSA could provide a means for macro social work students and new professionals to find mentorship. There was also some talk of using social media to facilitate mentor/student relationships.
There was also concern expressed around Ph.D. candidates facing many obstacles because they were focusing on macro issues instead of micro issues. There is a great emphasis in Ph.D. programs for candidates to get grants, but most of the grants offered are in health. This poses a problem to those focusing on social justice or public policy issues. Dr. Harding mentioned that he was currently supervising students whose thesis papers were being challenged because the topic was not seen as being appropriate to social work, this despite the University having a macro track.
Some great discussion came out of The Open Space exercise; at least going by the group I was in. Taking a look around the room everyone seemed very engaged.
When attendees first checked in the welcome table they were asked to write down a discussion topic on a Post It Note. Around six topics were then picked and posted around the meeting room. Individual attendees were free to pick which topic they were most interested in talking about and then formed small groups based on the suggested topics. I sat with a group that was discussing social work licensing.
The Rothman Report mentioned the notion that the clinical bent to social work licensing may be playing a role in some of the problems macro social work is facing. The majority of states do not offer a macro license. Many states have some form of generalist license (here in New York we have the LMSW), however those licenses tend to focus heavily on micro practice. We briefly talked about whether or not the creation of a macro license would be beneficial.
Our discussion flowed into the topic of a generalist curriculum versus the use of tracks. One participant said her school in Pennsylvania was generalist practice and she felt they had a fairly balanced program (i.e. that they provided equal opportunities to learn about macro and micro social work). My school was also generalist but without a doubt favored micro practice (there was only one macro elective and it was given during the winter intercession). There were a couple of students who attend programs with tracks and said that despite their school offering a macro or community organizing track the program still had a tendency to skew micro when it came to course offering and support.
After the discussion period the note taker for each group took turns giving an overview to the entire room. There was one group that had discussed searching for a job as a macro social worker. They mentioned not getting enough guidance with regards to this at their programs. This issue briefly came up in the group I was in when one student said she had no idea how to look for a macro focused job. Clearly this is an area schools are falling short in. The career advice being offered seems to be geared towards students who plan to do mental health counseling.
After each group’s representative spoke, the notes were collected. We were told that they would be given to the commission that ACOSA was forming to address the issues found in the Rothman Report. The commission will have its first meeting at Hunter in mid-July.
Overall, it was an excellent event that provided a rare opportunity for macro social workers to gather. Everyone who attended seemed very enthusiastic and while this could have been seen as a somewhat depressing discussion topic, it wasn’t. A lot of good solutions were brought up and everyone was very interested in figuring out how they could address the issues found in the report. With the creation of a commission by ACOSA (which was one of the organizations sponsoring the event) my hope is that we will see some real action taken to advocate for macro social work.
The event was recorded and once it has been edited will be made available online. I will provide a link once it is posted.
Macro Social Work Student Network
During the cocktail hour I was able to briefly talk with two MSWSN members, Andrew Calderaro and Winnie Lee.
MSWSN was formed back in 2011 and were originally called the National Community Organizing Network Project. It grew out of a project Silberman students were doing for their Community Organizing, Planning, and Development II course. As part of their work the students connected with other macro social work students at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Connecticut via videoconference.
In 2012 Silberman students created a more formal mission for the network and began working on expanding. Macro in a Micro World was their first event. They are particularly interested in connecting with students on other campuses.
According to Calderaro the long-term goal is to get MSWSN chapters established at other schools of social work. They hope that MSWSN can act as a vehicle to advocate for macro social work.
You can connect with MSWSN on Face Book at facebook.com/MSWSNetwork or by email at MSWSNetwork@gmail.com.
photo credit: MSWSN and Hunter College