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Social work in urgent need of diversity in its ranks

After nearly 40 years as a licensed profession allegedly founded on the bedrock of social justice did we only just realize the profession is 90% white?

Last year MinnPost reported that social workers now make up 75% of the mental health professionals in Minnesota (“Social workers are now the ‘backbone’ of Minnesota’s mental health workforce,” March 9, 2020). That article also reports that 90% of those social workers are white. Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and the trauma of all that happened in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the mental health of Black Minnesotans is as urgent as ever. It has always been urgent. Yet if those needs went unmet before, who will serve these citizens now?

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There has been a lot of discussion recently about the social work licensure exams used nationwide produced by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Growing evidence suggests there may be racial biases embedded in the exams and that BIPOC examinees fail at a disproportionate rate. Up until now the ASWB has been the preferred scapegoat of choice for state social work boards, universities, and academics. However, punting on responsibility is not what social justice looks like.

While it’s encouraging that the Minnesota Board of Social Work agreed at its meeting on May 21, 2021 to begin publicly reporting demographic data of licensure examinees, why now? After nearly 40 years as a licensed profession allegedly founded on the bedrock of social justice did we only just realize the profession is 90% white? Did universities only just now realize that it might be a bad look to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition from BIPOC students who cannot pass the licensure exam? Will these distinguished alumni get a refund?

It is time for social work programs at each university to be held accountable for their oppression. How much should social justice cost the oppressed and how many times must they pay?

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