KU News Service

Scholars outline responsibilities of schools of social welfare in era of anti-trans legislation

Fri, 05/05/2023

LAWRENCE — Through workshops and scholarly writing, experts from the University of Kansas are guiding conversations about the roles and responsibilities that schools of social work have to educate the next generation of social workers serving LGBTQ+ individuals in an environment of expanding anti-trans legislation across the country. Adding weight to the conversation is that sometimes such social workers are transgender or gender-expansive individuals who themselves experience the same challenges that put people in crisis.

The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare has hosted two annual town halls and led a recent scholarly journal special edition on the roles and responsibilities that schools of social work have in such an environment.

“We’ve seen an onslaught of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ policy and legislation across the U.S. Every year we hear it is the worst year yet for such policy and then the next year is worse again,” said Meg Paceley, associate professor of social welfare and director of the Toni Johnson Scholars for Racial and Social Justice Program. “The social justice values of our profession call for us to fight against oppression through social work education. Many of us do community-based work, and the ethics and values of our field call on us to do more.”

Following the inaugural 2022 town hall on anti-trans policies and social work education, the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare approached the organizers about editing a special issue of the journal focusing on similar topics. The issue was published in an open-access format this month. Paceley and co-editor Candace Christensen of the University of Texas, San Antonio, made a call for submissions. The journal includes contributions from scholars and students from across the country on the broad themes of transgender and gender-expansive student and faculty experiences in social work education and strategies for teaching, organizing and innovating social work education to promote more trans-inclusive social work education.

The goal of the journal issue is not to advocate for or against any certain policies at a state or national level, but rather to critically engage with social work and social work education’s responsibility to acknowledge the harm caused by anti-trans policies and rhetoric and commit to centering transgender and gender-expansive people, communities and issues in their curriculum, programs, procedures and community-based work.

Paceley and Christensen wrote an introduction to the special issue. In it, they address the larger issue of anti-trans policy, how it has largely targeted youth and students and the specific topics authors address throughout the special issue. They close with a call for faculty, social work education programs and accrediting bodies to create equitable, affirming and inclusive structures, systems and practices for the trans and gender-expansive community.

“Something I’m very happy about is the positionality of our authors. We have students, organizers, faculty and others,” Christensen said. “And as an open access journal, we wanted it to be available to anyone who is interested in seeing it.”

Topics covered by contributing authors include accounts of transphobia in class, a challenge to schools of social work to evolve, practicum experiences of trans and nonbinary social work students, trans-affirming pedagogy, mutual aid from queer and trans perspectives and anti-trans policies and practices in social work education, accreditation and licensing, among others.

Paceley and Emera Greenwood, a KU master’s of social work student, co-wrote a chapter as well.

“It takes a look at individual experiences and what it’s like to be a trans, nonbinary student in the Midwest. And it also pulls in their journey through the program, recognizing the harm they experienced alongside the hope and community they found,” Paceley said of the entry. “And it’s interspersed with my experiences as a faculty member and recommendations on how programs can address these issues and do better. We can all do better.”

Recommendations include examining syllabi and school policies for instances of anti-trans language, creating inclusive written materials, ensuring guidebooks are gender inclusive and finding ways to talk about transphobia in the classroom.

“Sometimes what students experience is pretty explicit, and people don’t know how to respond. So we’re providing recommendations on classroom competency and how to respond to such incidents, whether explicit or unintentional,” Paceley said.

The journal and town hall from which it formed are not political in nature or responding to any specific policies, but designed to encourage educators, university administrators and accrediting bodies to consider the reality of current society and how the landscape of anti-trans policy can be perpetuated within schools that are not only teaching trans and gender-expansive individuals, but also the future social workers who will work in diverse communities.

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