Social workers must 'focus on privilege,' prof proclaims

A professor recently argued that social workers must engage in “anti-oppression and privilege training” or else risk contributing to the “problem of social injustice.”

City University of New York (CUNY) Professor Alexis Jemal suggested such measures in an August 1 article published in the Journal of Progressive Human Services, in which she warns that it is “inappropriate” to train social workers “without a focus on privilege.”

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In order to avoid contributing to the “problem of social injustice,” Jemal suggests that those in her field must participate in “radical social work” training to examine “their own social privilege, explore personal biases and beliefs and the resulting oppression, and develop their capacity for action to challenge unjust conditions.”

Such trainings, Jemal argues, are crucial for social workers who have a duty to fight social injustice since it “is silencing, makes people unsafe and uncomfortable, [and] denies inalienable human rights.”

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"Radical social work bridges individual and community practice by acknowledging that macro forces have micro consequences; micro practices are reflective of macro socio-political processes; and, by opposing the socio-structural forces underlying individual problems,” she adds.

Additionally, Jemal recommends that her colleagues utilize a social-justice approach when dealing with clients, saying this can help “reduce” oppressive situations, and assist clients in navigating “systemic oppression.”

Finally, Jemal concludes by positing that traditional social work, which has traditionally strayed from addressing issues of oppression, is unethical, saying that professionals do not need to be “card carrying members of a recognized hate group” to contribute to the problem.

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“The only way to avoid being a part of the problem is to work actively to change the culture and systems that condone oppression and privilege,” she adds, urging her peers to discuss privilege and oppression more frequently so that neither becomes “rampant.”

Campus Reform reached out to Jemal for comment on her article, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen