Speaking up to bring about good

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President's message

About a month and a half ago, my social work department at the cancer institute where I work welcomed a new group of MSW interns. Over the last few weeks, these students have become more comfortable in our agency and have embraced their role. As a way of helping them connect the knowledge from the classroom into their direct practice with clients, our field instructors use a learning tool called a process recording.

photograph of Harold Dean
Harold Dean, ASWB president

For those unfamiliar with the process recording tool, it’s a written record of an interview between an intern and a client. In one part of this tool, students document, verbatim, the conversation that occurs between the student and the client. In another part, students record thoughts and feelings experienced throughout the interview. This section helps students gain an awareness of how their thoughts and feelings can influence the flow of the interview and, ultimately, their clinical work with the client.

In the thoughts and feelings section of a recent process recording, one of my students wrote, “I bet it took a lot of strength for Mr. X to get past his family’s cruelty.” In my supervisory comments, I replied, “It would be okay to say that to him. That would be very helpful for him to hear.” One of the responsibilities of an MSW field instructor is to help students know when to trust their instincts and speak up confidently to help their clients. Students need to understand it’s not enough to simply think certain things; to be effective social workers, they must give voice to their thoughts and beliefs in ways that help bring about good.

One of the things I have always appreciated about ASWB is its commitment to the value of diversity. – ASWB Board President Harold Dean

In the last six months, our nation has witnessed alarming incidents of racial injustice. Just as my social work students are evaluating the impact of their thoughts and feelings in their work with clients, organizations across our country have begun to take a closer look at the language and behavior of their employees within their work environments. Agencies are evaluating how the actions of their employees may contribute to a culture of systemic racism. In November the ASWB Board will demonstrate an understanding of the concept my students are learning—speaking up against cruel practices in order to bring about good. Our Board will adopt a statement that articulates ASWB’s  commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

One of the things I have always appreciated about ASWB is its commitment to the value of diversity. Two prominent committees demonstrate how diversity is embraced within ASWB: our Exam Committee and our Nominating Committee.

The Exam Committee is composed of a group of subject matter experts selected for diversity of gender, race, geographic region, and area of social work practice. Exam Committee members are chosen from the ranks of item writers, another group within the exam development program that represents the diversity of the profession. Exam Committee members bring their diverse knowledge and cultural experience to the work of reviewing and approving exam questions. They are responsible for ensuring that questions uphold the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion even when questions do not specifically test that knowledge. The Nominating Committee likewise is composed of members representing gender, racial, and geographic diversity. The committee works diligently to ensure that candidates for election are thoroughly vetted, meet the required qualifications, and reflect diversity of gender, race, and geographic region.

With these things already in place, some might question whether it’s necessary to have a statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  The answer is, Yes! Every successful organization must have principles that guide it—and every successful organization needs to give voice to those principles. Having a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement pledges our organization to an internal culture that embraces these values. It will be important for the Board to adopt a statement on behalf of ASWB, the organization representing one of the “three pillars” of the social work profession.

Belief in the value of each person regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation is one of the professional values that drew me to social work many years ago. I suspect this is true for most social workers. With that in mind, ASWB’s diversity, equity, and inclusion statement will give voice to one of social work’s guiding principles, and it will recommit our organization on a daily basis to that principle. It will be a touchstone to remind us to never lose sight of the social work profession’s core values.