Board Member Exchange focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in social work regulation

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In its six-year history, the ASWB Board Member Exchange has typically taken the form of an all-day in-person session preceding ASWB’s education meeting in the spring and the annual meeting in the fall. These facilitated discussions have relied on attendees identifying current hot topics for discussion, with participants sharing challenges their own boards have experienced and solutions that have worked. All benefit from the conversations as they learn from the experiences of their peers.

With travel limited by COVID precautions since early 2020, ASWB has offered shorter, virtual sessions to help regulators connect with one another online. The 22 members from 15 boards who attended ASWB’s most recent BMX session, held March 18, experienced another format shift as the wide-ranging discussion of previous sessions transitioned to a more structured presentation on the topic of choice—diversity, equity, and inclusion in social work regulation—followed by small-group breakouts.

A fresh format

Kenya Anderson of Tennessee offered a presentation interspersed with opportunities for discussion with the group at large and later in breakout rooms. “It can be hard to have conversations about racism,” said Regulatory Education Manager Jan Fitts, who provides ASWB staff support to the Board Member Exchange. “Kenya wanted to lead the session in a way that would get a conversation started and make it a safe place to discuss this important topic.”

“My purpose was to allow the participants to speak freely and guide them in the exploration of relevant topics for regulators and anti-racism,” Anderson said. “The goal was for participants to recognize their importance in anti-racism and how to apply anti-racism in a regulatory setting.” She invited participants to unmute themselves and make the session interactive. “This is not about me,” she said. “I’m not the expert. I’m a part of the group.”

Anderson’s experience makes her an ideal BMX facilitator. “As a Black female regulator working in academia, I have gained insight that supports my comfort with exploring the topic,” Anderson said. “My experience comes from participating in other anti-racism continuing education events, teaching social work seminar courses, and conducting related research on anti-racist pedagogy.”

By providing definitions and understandings at the outset, she gave participants a common language and guidance for engaging in a sometimes challenging conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Anderson paused frequently to allow for exchanges about the role of race in society, the power regulators hold, and the ways change can happen.

The Olympic effect

Among the provocative discussion points that gave rise to intense discussion was Anderson’s question about arenas or events that demonstrate what she calls the “Olympic effect.” She defines the term as a time, like the Olympics, when “we’re just ready to root for the home team … when race and culture are not the most important thing.” Anderson challenged participants to suggest other times when race was not the primary focus.

Photograph of Kenya Anderson speaking at a podium
REAL Committee and Nominating Committee member Kenya Anderson (TN) facilitated the March Board Member Exchange.

Takeaways for regulators


Racist: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inactions or expressing a racist idea (Kendi, 2019)

Antiracist: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea (Kendi, 2019)

Cultural competence: The ability to understand and communicate with people across cultures

Key ideas from Kenya Anderson

  • To say, “I’m not racist” is not being an anti-racist.
  • Our influence on regulatory boards should be rooted in the professional values and ethics of social work.
  • Anti-racism is an ongoing process; work with policymakers to develop antiracist policies.
  • Canadians make a territorial acknowledgment at important events to recognize the land and the Indigenous people whose homeland it is.


American University Antiracist Research & Policy Center

Boston University Center for Antiracist Research

Washington University at St. Louis Brown School (Open Classroom)

Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to Be an Antiracist. One World.

Participants found that task nearly impossible, though, with many asserting that the focus on race is constant. Velva Spriggs of Washington, D.C., expressed the group’s consensus: “I can’t imagine an America not being able to focus on race. I think race is always present. We may work well with it. People may be able to get beyond the stereotypes and value one another for who they are. But I think it’s always there because that’s a part of the fabric—the cultural fabric—of the United States of America.”

Board composition

Another topic that generated discussion was the variation in the ability of regulatory boards to recruit members from underrepresented groups.  “Having those voices at the table is very important in the decision-making process,” said Anderson, “because representation should reflect the population of your jurisdiction.”

John Shalett of Louisiana shared how his state fills an open position. A committee with representatives from various social work organizations and schools of social work vet all applications and send four names to the governor’s Boards and Commissions department. “I think we have a pretty good shot at diversity and inclusion when a new board member joins our group,” Shalett said.

At the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, the college’s Council has even more control over who joins the Board of Examiners. “We get to choose the social workers,” Joline Comeau, board chair and Council member, said, “but there are public members who are appointed by the minister.” The board’s webpage includes an explicit diversity statement: “The Board represents the diversity of the various fields of social work practice and reflects the intersectional identities of the College.”

Carol Payne of Minnesota explained that her state has a complex system defined in statute to ensure diversity. “It’s kind of like a Rubik’s Cube,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter who’s governor. I think we’re always well represented.”

But not all boards have legal requirements or processes that encourage inclusion. Endsley Real of Georgia said that positions in her state are often filled by the governor without a formal process. When a recent vacancy was filled by a person of color, Real suspects the choice was the result of board members being vocal enough that their opinion “trickled up” to the governor.

Other regulators, like Stephan Viehweg of Indiana and Michael Fiorillo of Michigan, shared that they experience similar frustrations in their states. Although they have little official power to influence board composition, they can sometimes use informal networks to advocate for diversity. “I’m jealous of states that have a process where you could submit a name and it could be vetted,” Viehweg said.

A timely topic

Diversity, equity, and inclusion in social work regulation proved to be a natural topic during a time of reflection on race. And the discussion served to prime attendees for the second day of the 2021 ASWB Education Meeting, which will address diversity, equity, inclusion, and regulation going forward. Attendees learned from other members and placed context around topics they grapple with on their separate boards.

They also experienced an effective model for facilitating a discussion on an important topic. “Teaching and facilitating critical conversations can be challenging,” Anderson said. “However, I believe it is necessary. I applaud anyone who takes the time required for self-reflection because these conversations will produce authentic learning opportunities. Together, we must determine how to support growth and change as we embrace differences.”