On March 17, Yolanda Padilla, the Director of the Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice at the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and Professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, visited BCSSW. Her talk, entitled “Practice Behaviors that Matter: Latina Perceptions of the Health Care System,” was sponsored by BCSSW’s Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI).
Padilla’s talk was very well received, as it presented an opportunity to hear from a distinguished academic in social work higher education. In addition, Padilla was on campus to meet with Assistant Professor Rocío Calvo, and members of the LLI. Padilla highlighted the LLI as a model program for diversity education.
Padilla and Calvo sat down with Innovate@BCSW during her recent visit to Boston. In this Q&A, they discuss the Center’s mission and the potential for a productive partnership with the LLI; and how both programs, working together, have the potential to contribute to a new, more culturally competent paradigm in social work education and practice.
Thanks so much for joining us here today. Yolanda, let’s begin with you. Tell us more about the mission of the CSWE Diversity Center, and what you hope to accomplish as its director.
Yolanda Padilla: The Center’s mission is very much in line with the mission of CSWE – to educate students in social work to become the best possible practitioners that they can be.
We have two principal initial projects we’re looking to accomplish over the coming weeks and months. One is to build a library of resources based in evidence-based practice with diverse populations. The second is to establish curriculum resources for CSWE member schools by featuring social work programs that model the integration of diversity and social and economic justice in the training of social work practitioners. This, in fact, is where our relationship with BC’s Latino Leadership Initiative most imminently comes into play.
Tell us about how your relationship with the LLI first began.
YP: Rocío and I first met under the auspices of the Grand Challenges for Social Work, as we both contributed to a paper called Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice: The Integration of Latina/o Immigrants into American Society. I was immediately intrigued by the LLI when I spoke with her, and the more I learned about the LLI’s mission and work, the more I realized that it represented an excellent model for the social work field to respond to the realities of the diverse populations we serve, and that we will continue to serve into the future.
Rocío Calvo: Immediately, I felt a profound connection with Yolanda. We were saying the same things, finishing each other’s sentences, and most importantly, we had very similar perspectives on what was lacking in the current paradigm of educating a next generation of Latina/o social workers, and what needed to be done to fix it. Never in my life did I imagine I would meet someone so equally dedicated to what we’ve been trying to accomplish in the LLI since it was first established three years ago. Yolanda and I have the same soul. It’s a wonderful relationship.
Expand on what you believe is lacking in the current paradigm for social work education, and in particular, explain more about what you believe can be done to better prepare MSW students to serve diverse populations.
YP: Up until now in social work higher education, we’ve largely addressed issues of diversity in a superficial way, in a way I like to call “the salad bar approach.” Courses spend a day here, and a day there, talking about various groups, and then they move on. This doesn’t work. Diversity and justice must be an integrated part of our curricula moving forward.
We often think in terms of applying a normative lens to social work, but I think this is problematic, and honestly, I’m not sure this type of lens exists in the real world. It is important that we understand the unique cultures of the people we serve, in order to make the kind of connections, both with individuals and in the community, which can really promote positive change.
RC: A good example of this phenomenon regards the perception of Latino families in America as ‘enmeshed.’ In short, it’s the idea that Latinos are incapable of leading an independent life, because they are so dependent on family structures and unable to make decisions by themselves. This whole concept, or lens, however, misses the point, and doesn’t employ the kind of approach necessary to better serve individuals that do not necessarily want help, but, instead crave real opportunities for advancement. Instead of looking at a strong, tight-knit family as a resource, in this framework, social workers can see it as a weakness. This is exactly the kind of cultural misunderstanding that we need to work to change.
How, then, is the Latino Leadership Initiative taking this challenge head-on, and seeking to build a better, more inclusive paradigm for social work education?
RC: The LLI is charged with analyzing systemic oppression, and finding ways to redirect the conversation around how different cultures fit into existing structures. We seek to define new, more inclusive paradigms that promote a sharing of power and a diversity of perspectives, as we seek to change the system.
The LLI educates future Latino social workers to work with Latino communities from an asset-based perspective, while also using this approach to design our curriculum. We teach in Spanish, a key cultural marker, and we’ve infused our curriculum with evidence-based literature on how to better serve Latino communities in social work. This approach serves to both equip students with the tools they’ll need to succeed professionally, while forming the kind of community that supports their academic success as they negotiate their presence on campus.
Recently, I was awarded a Spencer Grant to study the LLI, in order to gauge the success of this program to graduate Latino MSW degree holders, and their ability to secure the careers they aspire to following graduation.
YP: What’s really exciting about the LLI is that, while I share a devotion to its focus on Latino populations, I also believe it is a model that can be transferable to empowering other underrepresented groups gain a foothold in social work education and practice. I envision a range of unique approaches emerging from diverse groups themselves that reflect their own lived experiences and perspectives.
We often fail to draw on the rich cultural resources of diverse groups, whether they represent ethnic minorities or other marginalized populations such as LGBTQ. Yet research shows that when we fail to do so, social work interventions are not effective. We can change this. In fact, we need to change this, and I believe it starts with programs like the Latino Leadership Initiative.
Listen to Padilla discuss, in Spanish, the imperative for diversity education and programs like the LLI.