Social Workers, Young People, and Today’s Protest Culture

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Are today’s youth poised for success in social work? Or are they facing sometimes insurmountable roadblocks? As reported by  Bineet Kaur in The Collegian, Fresno State’s social work program has some students who are concerned with the graduate school’s admissions policies. Those students met recently with faculty following a protest of admission decisions to the Master of Social Work (MSW) program.

“The students had spoken out on a number of issues, including removing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) from the list of requirements to apply to the master’s program and the need for an established social work writing course. Some students were concerned that just one-third of MSW students had been bachelor of social work undergraduates. After the protest, Martha Vungkhanching, chair of the Fresno State department of social work education, wrote a letter to the editor to The Collegian to address some of the students’ concerns. Vungkhanching said that for the 2018-19 school year, 50 percent of those admitted to the MSW program were bachelor of social work undergraduates. She said the percentage fluctuates from year to year.”

At issue seems to be the “burden” the GRE presents for some students. Student protestors contend that income disparities make it easier for some students to score well on the exam, while those from lower income brackets do more poorly. Those with less money, for example, can’t afford the same kind of test prep that more affluent students purchase. Study materials for the GRE can cost hundreds of dollars, depending on how extensive they are.

The implications for the future of social work programs in this country are obviously one of the topics at play here, but more broadly, the student protest raises the often thorny issue of “income inequality.” On one side are today’s young people who, increasingly, are aware of social issues of this type. On the other side are those who say that no set of circumstances faced by any two students will be “equal.” It is the task before all students, these critics contend, to overcome their personal challenges and achieve.

So where does that leave future generations of social workers? And what attitude best facilitates success and achievement in the social work field, from academia to long careers within social work? As always, we’d love to hear what you think. Is income inequality a real factor in social work education and subsequent careers in the field? Or is today’s “protest culture” too sensitive to perceived inequality? Please tell us what you think.

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