Do US Social Work Students View Social Work as a Human Rights Profession? Levels of Support for Human Rights Statements Among BSW and MSW Students

Abstract

Social work practice not centered on human rights may unintentionally perpetuate human rights abuses, and these abuses can have global implications. US-based social work educators have made efforts to directly focus social work education on human rights since 2008, when the US-based Council on Social Work Education included a human rights competency. However, insufficient data exists regarding US-based social work students’ views on human rights, as well as the possible relationship between exposure to human rights content in social work education and student endorsement of human rights. The present research attempts to address both issues: Using McPherson and Abell’s (2012) 25-item Human Rights Engagement in Social Work scale (HRESW), the author assessed the overall endorsement of human rights perspectives by students in a social work program in the western United States, and examined differences between students at different levels in the program to evaluate the effectiveness of increased exposure to human rights content. Descriptive results from 171 BSW and MSW students showed overall endorsement of human rights. Ten of the 25 HRESW items showed stronger agreement among upper-division BSW and MSW students when compared with their lower-division BSW peers at statistically significant levels; these items were related to social and economic rights. When comparing online and face-to-face students, one HRESW item showed a statistically significant difference. Overall results indicate that social work students have a relatively high level of human rights endorsement, which has the potential to increase with continual exposure to human rights content in social work courses.

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Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank the following social workers, scholars, and professionals for their assistance with this project: Elizabeth Almanza, Jill Chonody, Tia Cochran, Scott Crandell, Annie Estvold, Daniel Gibson, Donna Haney, Royce Hutson, Bonnie Kenaley, Anika Levinson, Denice Liley, Randy Magen, Marissa Nickel, Jen Obenshain, Mandy Putzier, Heather Schoenherr, Nate Williams, and Ryan Witt.

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Correspondence to Heather Witt.

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All social work students enrolled in the BSW and on-campus and online MSW programs at a western university in the USA were invited to participate in the present study. After approval from the Institutional Review Board was granted, the survey was distributed both by hand during class sessions and online for distance students. Consent forms were provided—students were informed that their participation was completely anonymous and voluntary, and they could end their participation at any time. Surveys were completed during the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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Witt, H. Do US Social Work Students View Social Work as a Human Rights Profession? Levels of Support for Human Rights Statements Among BSW and MSW Students. J. Hum. Rights Soc. Work (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41134-020-00126-0

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Keywords

  • Social work education
  • Human rights
  • United States
  • Attitudes
  • Online education