One of the beautiful aspects of being in higher education is that each academic discipline really does attract a specific type of student. In our undergraduate Social Work courses we tend to get a significant number of students who vote with the Democratic Party (or are not registered); are not particularly religious, are female, young, and Caucasian. Social Work majors also tend to have had some personal interaction with or connection to the greater social service/welfare system. As opposed to the stereotypical Criminal Justice major who is either Independent or Republican, maybe not religious but with a penchant for following rules, male, youngish, and Caucasian. And contrary to my SWK students the CJ students I have encountered, have had some negative personal interaction or connection with the CJ system (victim of a crime) that leads them to their professional choice. There are also some suspected personality traits that typically go with each major, but that I will not even touch (but you can use your imagination).
I teach a course on “diversity” and “cultural competence” in the human services. The course is required of SWK majors and also meets the University’s graduation requirement for diversity. Thus, I tend to have 85-90% SWK majors; 5-10% CJ majors; and 2-3% “other majors” (Business, Education, Sociology). Did that add up to 100%??? The course is taught from the ethical & value-laden perspective of the SWK profession with my own twist (middle-aged female of color with a variety of life experiences and lots of opinions).
- CJ majors sit in the back or on the far sides; never in the front or the middle
- CJ majors have no problem challenging the information presented and often do so from the perspective of personal experience as opposed to presenting factual data
- SWK majors tend to agree with everything I say (equally as annoying as challenging everything I say)
- SWK majors tend to roll their eyes at the CJ majors and vice versa
- CJ majors deny that there is any injustice based on a specific social identity (race, ethnicity, gender in particular).
- SWK majors think everyone has been wronged or oppressed (in fact when I give an exam I am the oppressor)
- CJ majors claim that our country and it’s social institutions are based on and operate under the premise of justice.
- SWK majors say justice is not SOCIAL JUSTICE
- When discussing a specific type of oppression that a specific group has experienced (i.e. Antisemitism or Homophboia) the CJ majors say “Well, that’s like the time I…”
- SWK majors say “NO. It is NOT like the time you…” and then they over empathize.
I am challenged to really TEACH as oppose to PREACH to the converted SWK choir. It is a challenge. I am embracing it.
- I am breathing deeply
- I am counting to 5 (sometimes 10) before I respond
- I am looking up tons of CJ facts to bring to class for rebuttal purposes.
- I am consulting with my CJ colleagues (thanks, you know who you are!)
- I am welcoming the CJ majors who keep me on my toes AND making sure they get a good does of social work values & ethical principles
I want everyone who wants and can access an education to receive an education (I really want higher education to be more accessible, but that’s another blog). And I want to encourage students to explore courses outside of their major (that’s what liberal arts is all about right?).