Social Work for Social Justice: Teaching to Mission

Mary Ann Brenden in front of the St. Catherine University Our Lady of Victory Chapel

by Mary Ann Brenden, Associate Professor

Social Justice means loving people so much that I work to change structures that violate their dignity. - Peter Henriot S.J.

In 2006, the School of Social Work responded to a call to action from the presidents of both our host institutions, St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas, to articulate how the missions of our universities uniquely inform how we educate students. In response to this challenge, faculty and students studied how major faith traditions address social justice and found Catholic Social Teaching to be the “most systematic framework offered by a religious faith to articulate a commitment to justice.” This discovery led to a comprehensive examination of the intersection between the NASW Code of Ethics and Catholic Social Teaching and resulted in the development of Social Work for Social Justice: Ten Principles. Faculty also completed a thorough assessment of the curriculum which identified current strengths relating to the inclusion of social justice content as well as gaps, opportunities and ways in which the integration of social justice content in our programs could be strengthened. The faculty subsequently made a decision to integrate the Ten Principles across the School’s graduate and undergraduate curriculum.

Our Social Work for Social Justice initiative was recognized as trail-blazing by Catholic-sponsored social work education programs nationally and many institutions adopted our Ten Justice Principles to enrich their own programs. Likewise, other disciplines at St. Kate’s and St. Thomas were eager to learn of our work and used it as a guide to examine and enrich their own programs. The synergy and interest generated by Social Work for Social Justice culminated in a national conference hosted by our School of Social Work in June, 2007. Over 120 faculty and administrators representing 37 of the 64 Catholic social work education programs in the U.S. participated in the conference which featured the publication of Social Work for Social Justice: A Resource Guide. This resource guide offers over 70 instructional modules, developed by our faculty and by conference participants, which demonstrate the integration social justice content into social work curriculum.

Many faculty continue to integrate the Ten Principles in their courses today. Students often express appreciation for the way in which the Ten Principles deepen their personal commitment to justice and prepare them to more effectively pursue social justice as social work practitioners. I am extremely proud of the leadership provided by our School and the important contribution Social Work for Social Justice made to St. Kate’s, St. Thomas and to social work education nationally. This focus on social justice responds to the missions of both of our universities, the mission of our profession, and to the challenges of these contemporary times in our country and world to advance human dignity and promote community and the common good.I hope that the School of Social Work will continue to advance social work education which demonstrates a strong commitment to social justice and wish the faculty and students well as they build on our pioneering work and continue to provide leadership within out institutions, our profession, our community and to social work education nationally!