As a student ambassador, I answer emails and often help with the student panels during the prospective student information sessions. A question that I often encounter is a variation of: “because of my educational background in college, will I have difficulty integrating my knowledge into the field of social work in a MSW program?” This particular kind of question resonates with me, and I love being able to provide an answer to prospective students. Only a few years ago, I can clearly remember attending MSW information sessions and having similar concerns about whether or not my knowledge and experience would translate into a MSW program. As someone that entered the program straight out of undergrad with my B.S. in psychology, I can say that my experience in the UNC School of Social Work has been a wonderful journey.
However, despite my initial concerns about my lack of social work experience, my fears were quickly abated as I got to know my fellow students in my cohort. As a whole, I feel that our program is an eclectic group of individuals, all boasting unique experiences, backgrounds, and skill sets that translate well into social work practice. When reflecting on the diversity of others’ journeys and prior experiences in the program, I cannot help but consider how this notion fits into the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) core values:
1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity
(a) Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures.
(b) Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups.
(c) Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability.
While this NASW statement serves as a reminder to social workers of the importance of our clients’ unique experiences and individual expressions, I think we should be cognizant of the individualism our fellow social workers bring to the table. Valuing the importance of cultural competence with our clients begins with valuing the diversity in experience of our fellow students in the program. The point being is that despite the differing background of incoming students, that core uniqueness is essential to the MSW experience and integrating your experience into practice, class discussion, and field practicum. Herein lies the core of the notion of strength-based approach, paramount to competent social work practice. In other words, do not let your background prevent you from transitioning to social work, but instead allow your experience to serve as a strength to guide your interest in the field.