Learning Experiences in Social Work: Transition From Sympathy to Empathy

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The fundamental values of social work are the non-judgmental acceptance of differences and culturally competent informed practice with individuals and groups who ‘fail’ to fit in this mould (Reamer, 1999). The ethos of mainstream American social thought- individualism, entitlement, and the synonymy of work with worth are at odds with these values. According to the Council of Social Work Education report (1999), Social Work students enrolled in higher education are more likely to be a part of the mainstream American society and thereby a privileged group. As such these students even while being sensitive to the social outcomes of those less privileged might not be able to transition from sympathy to empathy in their value orientation. This paper examines the application of the identities (of women) (Singh, 2007) framework to facilitate this transition in social work students within classrooms. The ‘identities’ (of women) framework is an innovative pedagogical framework that includes concepts from cultural anthropology, social psychology, and post-structuralist feminism. For instance, a rudimentary tenet of cultural anthropology is that subjective interpretation of social categories is important for understanding groups and individuals within their context (Aggarwal, 2002). Thus the learning process should reexamine the relevance of preordained categories both social and academic to the students, such as race, gender, and levels of achievement. The post structuralist critique of feminism asks for a re-examination of stationary and simplistic identities of individuals, such as the dualistic interpretation of existence into powerful and powerless (Hughes, 2002). This would entail generating new and flexible typologies for grouping students and identifying areas of value competencies and deficiency for a career in social work. From a social psychology perspective, the consciousness of who we are and what we represent is a process of identity formation (Deaux and Stewart, 2001). By introducing a new variable for student affiliation, called the Social Worker Identity, we could facilitate the deconstructing and re-structuring of student consciousness. This paper will be a key piece of cultural competency training of clinical and policy practice with diverse populations in social work


Keywords: Values, Social Work, Interdisciplinary
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Shweta Singh

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Loyola University Chicago
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Shweta Singh is faculty in research and policy stream at the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago. She is also teaching courses on India Reader and Global Feminism in 2008. She has a Doctorate from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2005)and a Master’s degree in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India (1996). Her ongoing research project include neighborhood impact studies, risk taking behavior in college students, impact of Schooling upon Identity; Immigrant women and institutionalized racism; Domestic violence and non profit initiatives, Constructing measures of identity in Asian population groups. Her earlier practice and research work includes consultancy assignments with field offices of UNICEF and OXFAM, and the Corporate Sector (CII)in India.

Ref: L08P0186