U program seeks diverse candidates

The School of Social Work asks alumni to share advice and personal experiences.

Angela Delmedico

The University’s School of Social Work is holding free information sessions throughout Minnesota this fall to recruit diverse candidates for professional studies in social work.

Eighty-two percent of students enrolled in the master’s and doctoral programs this semester are white, and 80 percent are female, according to the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

Diversity is vital in social work, as in all professional fields, said Mary Weeks, director of admissions at the school.

“When we talk diversity, it’s not just race and gender. It’s kind of bringing in the spectrum of the human race,” Weeks said.

Doctoral student Mary Pfohl, who worked in child welfare for 10 years before returning to school, said social workers’ clients “want someone who has walked in their shoes.”

“I’ve heard, ‘You don’t know, you haven’t been there,’ and I couldn’t deny that particular statement,” Pfohl said.

Sensitivity training and working through these issues is part of the challenge of social work, she said.

“When many of the professionals look like the constituents, there is a connectedness that doesn’t happen when there are significant differences,” Weeks said.

The school is holding free information sessions at various nonprofit and government agencies through November. They provide a basic overview of the master’s degree program and details of the application process.

The sessions’ purpose is to enhance awareness of the program among agency employees, who are likely candidates to pursue a degree in social work, Weeks said.

The school also brings alumni to the sessions to share advice and personal experiences.

To increase diversity in the field of social work, Weeks said encouraging all students to enter the helping professions, especially minorities and males, needs to start as early as elementary school.

“We should be tuned in to the growth and change of our community as a whole. We are a graduate professional school, and we are doing a disservice to our community if we don’t keep in touch with that,” Weeks said.

Ethnic minorities make up 5 percent of the membership in the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said Alan Ingram, executive director of the Minnesota chapter.

Ingram said cultural and economic barriers to education are possible reasons for the low representation of licensed, ethnic minority social workers in the field.