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Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

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As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

16 Comments
Lily Casura Lily Casura says:

There was a whole panel at @UTSA in the public policy school on #Ferguson, with all black professorial panelists. But yes…

Well written. @acosaorg has some suggested action steps posted. I hope more #socialworkers join in advocacy. #macrosw

Pippy Pippy says:

@HGGolightly

This……… 🙁

Heaven Bound says:

Please, let me know how I can help.

Deona Hooper says:

Thank you for reading and prayers go out to your former community. Right, now I am not sure of how to coordinator services for those who want to volunteer in the absence of a larger social work organization taking on that responsibility. But, I am going to start looking for a solution.

Deona Hooper says:

LaTamera Woodley I know that you are exactly correct. I have been working with a lot of nonprofits lately, and there is always a social worker or social workers working and volunteering under the banner of a nonprofit organization. I agree that its more difficult for social workers in Agencies to engage the media which is why I feel more social worker professors should be giving their opinion whether its asked for or not. When I started SWH, it was because I was disenfranchised and I had no where to air my concerns. As SWH grows, I am starting to feel more responsibility to do more rather than waiting for someone else with more resources to step up to the plate. Thank you for your thoughts!

I personally think Social Workers are involved individually and even perhaps as part of other organizations not labeled as social work org/ schools/ or agencies. I think we have to do our own grass roots efforts and that may not be under a social work umbrella but on a community united front. As far as social workers not being called t the table to do editorials or guest spots on political agendas I think you have to position yourself in such a manner to be thought of as an expert on the matter. I feel the same why when news stories are done and professors from Vanderbilt are always responding or interviewed however, there are several other colleges and universities in the area with equally qualified professors and experts. Deona Hooper I think you have the perfect platform to present as an expert in the field. Also, the Social Work Helper is your very own baby. You are representing your own company / agency / profession / self. While I work for a state department, it would not be in my financial best interested to present myself as an expert to call upon for anything political / policy driven / or likewise. Because even though I am not intentionally speaking for my state agency, I am a representation rather I provide that information or not, because as you know, journalist and others will do their research and find out who I work for, especially if I say something that rubs them the wrong way. I agree with your comments wholeheartedly but these are my thoughts on why more individual Social Workers do not speak up or haven't. I think the same goes for the colleges and universities as well.

Heaven Bound says:

Excellent article! As a MSW grad student and a former resident of St, Louis, Mo, the silence of the social work profession regarding Ferguson, Mo. is very disturbing. I'm still in the process of learning how to advocate for social justice and change, but where are the experienced social workers who have dedicated their lives to helping others. The citizens of Ferguson need help!! I, too, have read many appalling comments from social workers on social media, which left me speechless. I totally agree with your statement, "Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements." Deona, thank you for writing this article.

Deona Hooper says:

Thank you for reading. I have been scouring the internet and social media outlets to find schools of sw and sw orgs weighing in Ferguson, but there is very little to report.

I've been increasingly disturbed by social workers' relative silence with regard to Ferguson. The NASW finally published a blog post about social workers' role in advocating for law enforcement reform, but as I keep looking to my alma mater, schools of social work in the Boston area, and other social work organizations, there is nothing. With a professional Code of Ethics that includes working for social justice and respecting the inherent dignity and worth of every person, I cannot understand how we can NOT be involved – particularly from a macro/advocacy perspective. Thank you for this post.

Deona Hooper Deona Hooper says:

Thank you, and I appreciate you reading.

Good article and critique of social work and its action (or inaction) in times of crisis.

Diversity

Study Identifies Risk And Protective Factors For Depressive Symptoms In African-American Men

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African-American men report an average of eight depressive symptoms in a month, with family support, mastery, self-esteem, chronic stressors and discrimination among the factors that are significant to their psychological health, according to a new study led by researchers at Georgia State University.

Although African-Americans are less likely than whites to meet the criteria for major depressive disorder, they are at increased risk for depressive symptoms. Few studies have focused on identifying the risk and protective factors that contribute to depressive symptoms in African-American men, which this study addresses.

The researchers determined the stress process model, a framework for understanding health and health inequalities, was useful for identifying psychosocial risk and protective factors in African-American men, explaining about half (50 percent) of the depressive symptoms. The findings could be beneficial for directing health initiatives and policies aimed at improving the psychological health of this population.

They also found some of the risk and protective factors influence each other. For instance, self-esteem and mastery (how people perceive control over things that happen to them) play an important role in mitigating the negative psychological harm associated with lower-income neighborhoods. Family support also was a buffer for the harmful mental health effects of stress exposure. The increased depressive symptoms associated with higher levels of chronic stressors and daily discrimination are relatively lower among African-American men who report more family support.

“The factors that contribute to the mental health of African-American men are consistent with research on the factors that are important for the psychological well-being of the general population—coping resources, stress exposure and economic conditions,” said Dr. Mathew Gayman, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Georgia State. “However, African-American men report, on average, fewer coping resources, greater stress exposure and poorer economic conditions than the general population.

It is the systematic disparities in these factors that contribute to race inequalities in psychological health. Ultimately, if we want to address the increased risk for mental health problems (and mental health generally) experienced by African-American men, we must address the social conditions and forces that shape race disparities in coping resources, stress exposure and economic conditions.”

Using data from a community-based study of Miami-Dade County (Fla.) residents that was linked to neighborhood census data, the researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 people from different ethnic groups between 2000 and 2001. Analysis for this study was limited to only African-American men, a sample of 248 participants.

Depressive symptomatology was assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Participants were presented with statements such as “You felt depressed” and “You felt that you could not shake off the blues” in the past month and asked to give responses ranging from 0 (not at all) to 3 (almost all the time). Higher scores represented more symptoms.

Various scales were also used to assess socioeconomic status (individual-level and neighborhood-level), social stressors, daily discrimination, perceived social support, mastery, and self-esteem.

About 11 percent of the African-American men reported 16 or more depressive symptoms, a cutoff often used to estimate for clinical-level depression, although depressive symptoms in these men might be underreported because of gender differences in the expression of depression. Consistent with previous research, this study found individual socioeconomic status in African-American men was not associated with depressive symptoms, possibly because of the often-unrealized rewards associated with higher income and education among African-Americans.

However, the researchers determined African-American men living in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods experienced significantly more depressive symptoms, highlighting the significance of neighborhood socioeconomic status in their psychological health.

Because African-American men are more likely than white counterparts to live in lower-income neighborhoods, the researchers conclude that public health policies aimed at addressing poor mental health among African-Americans should account for neighborhood conditions. The findings also indicate that while self-reliance through mastery and self-esteem may be important for mitigating the psychological consequences associated with living in relatively poor neighborhoods, the ability to perceive support from one’s family is important for minimizing the negative mental health consequences of stress exposure for African-American men.

The findings are published in a special issue on the Psycho-social Influences of African-Americans Men’s Health in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. Co-authors of the study include Drs. Ben Lennox Kail and Amy Spring and Ph.D. student George R. Greenidge Jr., and it was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.

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Teachers Report Weaker Relationships with Students of Color, Children of Immigrants

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The relationship between teachers and students is a critical factor for academic success. However, a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds that teachers report weaker relationships with children of immigrants and adolescents of color.

“Teachers’ relationships are hugely important for all students, but particularly so for groups that are marginalized. Yet, the students who could most benefit from relationships with their teachers are the ones that have the least access to strong teacher-student relationships,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and author of the study, published online in the American Journal of Education.

Since 2014, public school classrooms have reflected a demographic shift in the United States, with the overall number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students surpassing the number of White students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students of color now make up the majority of students, but inequities between students of different backgrounds have continued to plague the education system.

Existing research highlights the importance of teacher-student relationships on academic indicators such as test scores, classroom engagement, and interest in learning. Teachers not only play a pivotal role in developing students’ knowledge and skills, but can also serve as role models.

But research also presents a mixed view of student-teacher relationships with students of color and immigrant youth. Though these groups of youth may be especially reliant upon their teachers, many also report discriminatory experiences or few interactions with staff.

In the current study, Cherng studied two aspects of teacher-student relationships: whether teachers form equally strong relationships with students from different backgrounds and whether these relationships shape students’ academic expectations for themselves.

Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, a nationally representative sample of high school students and their teachers, Cherng analyzed teacher surveys for English and math high school teachers. Relationships were measured three ways: how familiar a teacher reported being with a student, whether the teacher perceived a student to be passive or withdrawn, and engagement in conversation with students outside the classroom. These surveys were linked with academic and demographic data for their students.

For the analysis examining teacher-student personal relationships and later academic outcomes, a measure of student academic expectations was used, which gauged whether a student expected to go to and complete college.

Cherng found that not all groups of students enjoy strong teacher-student relationships; patterns of relationships varied by subject taught, race/ethnicity, and whether students were immigrants, children of immigrants, or third-generation and beyond. For instance, English teachers reported weaker relationships with Asian American students and math teachers with their Latino students compared to third-generation White students.

“Different patterns in student-teacher relationships among English and math teachers suggest that distinct stereotypes may shape relationships,” Cherng said.

In contrast to these patterns of disadvantage, English teachers reported stronger relationships with third-generation Black students compared to third-generation White students. This may reflect teachers’ concerted efforts to close the achievement gap between White and Black students.

The study also highlights the important role of strong teacher-student relationships in fostering student academic expectations: early teacher-student relationships impact later student academic expectations. In other words, teacher-student relationships can inspire students to have high academic ambitions.

“This study demonstrates that teacher-student relationships are a valuable source of social capital in that they help shape students’ academic expectations. However, these relationships are not a resource that is equally available to all students,” Cherng said. “In contrast to the idea that racial discrimination is an intentional disparagement, the findings may reflect a subtler form of racial discrimination: teachers may be unfamiliar with the lives of all of their students, and this lack of knowledge may hinder relationships.”

Cherng notes that the study supports the necessity of rigorous teacher training in cultural awareness in order to overcome biases and improve relationships between teachers and students.

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Offhand Comments Can Expose Underlying Racism, UW Study Finds

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Blatant racism is easy to identify — a shouted racial slur, a white supremacist rally, or the open discrimination, segregation and violence of the pre-civil rights era.

But more subtle forms of bias, called microaggressions, emerge in the everyday exchanges among friends and strangers alike and can offend racial and ethnic minorities.

Such statements, uttered intentionally or inadvertently, draw upon stereotypes and are linked with racism and prejudice, according to a University of Washington-led study. The research is believed to be the first of its kind to explore microaggressions from the perspective of those who commit them, and suggests that whites who are more likely to deliver microaggressions are also more likely to harbor some degree of negative feeling toward blacks, whether they know it or not.

The concept of microaggressions has garnered greater attention in today’s political environment, explained lead author Jonathan Kanter, a UW research associate professor of psychology.

“Our study results offer validation to people of color when they experience microaggressions. Their reactions can’t simply be dismissed as crazy, unreasonable or too sensitive,” Kanter said. “According to our data, the reaction of a person of color — being confused, upset or offended in some way — makes sense, because they have experienced what our data show: that people who are more likely to make these comments also are more racist in other ways.”

The study appears online in the journal Race and Social Problems.

For this study, the team, with the help of focus groups of students of color from three universities, devised the Cultural Cognitions and Actions Survey (CCAS) and administered it to a small group of students — 33 black, 118 white — at a large public university in the Midwest. The 56-item questionnaire asks the white respondent to imagine him- or herself in five different everyday scenarios involving interactions with black people, such as talking about current events, attending a diversity workshop, or listening to music. The respondent then considers how likely he or she is to think or say specific statements. For black respondents, the wording of the scenarios and questions was revised slightly to assess whether they would experience racism. Each of the statements included in the survey was deemed at least somewhat, if not significantly, offensive by black students.

In the “current events” scenario — the one that yielded the highest percentage of “likely” responses from whites — respondents were to imagine talking about topics in the news, such as police brutality and unemployment. More than half of white respondents said they would think or say, “All lives matter, not just black lives,” while 30 percent said they might say, “I don’t think of black people as black,” and 26 percent said they were likely to think or say, “The police have a tough job. It is not their fault if they occasionally make a mistake.” More than half of black respondents identified each of those statements as racist.

Responses on the CCAS were then related to several validated measures of racism and prejudice, to determine if one’s likelihood of making microaggressive statements was related to these other measures. An additional scale controlled for social desirability — the idea that respondents might answer in ways that put themselves in the best possible light.

Results indicated that white students who said they were more likely to make microaggressive statements were also significantly more likely to score higher on all the other measures of racism and prejudice, and results were not affected by social desirability.

The statement that yielded the highest statistical relation to other measures of racism among white respondents came from the “diversity workshop” scenario, in which a class discusses white privilege. Though only about 14 percent of white respondents said they were likely to think or say, “A lot of minorities are too sensitive,” the statement had the highest correlation with negative feelings toward blacks. Nearly 94 percent of black respondents said the statement was racist.

The correlations between statements and attitudes are averages from the study sample, Kanter said, and so the results do not address the intentions or feelings of any one person.

“It doesn’t mean that on a case-by-case basis, if you or I engaged in microaggressions, that we have cold or racist feelings toward blacks,” he said. “But the study says that regardless of the intention behind a microaggression or the feelings of the specific person who uttered it, it’s reasonable for a black person to be offended. On average, if you engage in a microaggression, it’s more likely that you have cooler feelings toward black people, and that whether you intended it or not, you’ve participated in an experience of racism for a black person.”

In many ways, overt racism has declined gradually since the civil rights movement, Kanter said, and white people often assume that because they do not utter racial slurs, or perhaps are well-versed in and value social justice, that they do not have to worry about engaging in racist behavior themselves.

“It can come as a bit of a shock to a lot of white people that their behavior and attitudes are under scrutiny,” said Kanter, who pointed out that as a white male, he has had to confront realizations about his own behavior over time. “The nature of how we’re looking at racism is changing. We’re now able to look at and root out more subtle forms of bias that weren’t focused on before because explicit racism was taking a lot of the attention.”

Taken in isolation, the size and location of the study sample limit the generalizations that can be made, Kanter said. But the idea behind the CCAS is to use it elsewhere and adapt it to focus on other racial and ethnic minorities so as to better understand racism and develop educational tools to combat it. The survey has since been used at the University of Washington, he added, where early results are very similar to those reported in the published article.

Kanter said he’s heard from critics who say the study has a liberal bias, or that the research should examine offenses against white people. But he says the point is to address racism targeted at oppressed and stigmatized groups.

“We’re interested in developing interventions to help people interact with each other better, to develop trusting, nonoffensive, interracial relationships among people. If we want to decrease racism, then we need to try to decrease microaggressions,” he said.

Other authors of the study were UW graduate students Adam Kuczynski and Katherine ManbeckMonnica Williams of the University of Connecticut, Marlena Debreaux of the University of Kentucky; and Daniel Rosen of Bastyr University.

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