Academic and personal identity reflected in diversity and difference in practice

Research Topics > Academic and personal identity reflected in diversity and difference in practice

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the organization that accredits social work programs nationwide, requires all programs to educate students to engage diversity and difference in practice. One path to realizing this is through learning and teaching about the experiences of diverse populations. Dr. Rena Harold and her colleagues doctoral candidate Kristen Prock and PhD alum Dr. Sheryl Groden have been looking at this question among social work faculty who self-identify as members of diverse groups.

Every individual has private and public selves and makes choices about how to connect those selves and/or keep them separate. For faculty whose self-definition includes an identity as a member of a minority group, there is often a bigger question of the possible impact of being out as whatever that minority designation might be. The researchers investigated this question through a qualitative study of faculty members’ personal versus academic identities based on interviews with 31 social work faculty members.

Participants were recruited nationally with consideration of the following: gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and/or religion. Data were collected utilizing direct scribing, a method that allows the researcher and participant to actively collaborate in the interview process, and were then analyzed for themes. Social work faculty reported their experiences with identity management in interactions with students, colleagues, and administrators as well as how it influences teaching and research.

“I am a qualitative researcher, and the reason that I am is that people’s voices don’t get heard more in scientific research. My voice isn’t heard, and it should be. I am interested in those communities that are not heard. I am interested in hearing my story in the literature.” —Research participant

In summary, participants in this study were aware of their multiple diverse identities and were able to describe the ways in which they acknowledged them in academia. They discussed factors that encouraged and discouraged their decisions to be out. Each participant had a rich story to tell, and they were aware of the fact that by participating in this study, they were advancing the dialogue, especially as it related to social work education. They expressed the desire to move social work further into the conversation and to help people see the necessity of living the values and ethics we hold to be a cornerstone of our profession. Their words and stories require that we take a look at how diversity enriches social work education and what can be done to preserve and encourage the value that diversity brings. As one subject said, “I am a qualitative researcher, and the reason that I am is that people’s voices don’t get heard more in scientific research. My voice isn’t heard, and it should be. I am interested in those communities that are not heard. I am interested in hearing my story in the literature.”

The research team presented this study at the 2017 CSWE Annual Program Meeting (APM) and were awarded the Feminist Manuscript Award. They will present with colleague Dr. Scott Berlin (MSU PhD alum and director of the School of Social Work at Grand Valley State University) at the 2018 APM and at the 2019 Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference. MSW alum Neeshan Mehretu and doctoral student Daniel Cavanaugh assisted with earlier stages of this work.

Prock, K. A., Berlin, S., Harold, R. D., & Groden, S. A. (2019, January). We All Have a Personal Story About Why We Do What We Do”: A Qualitative Exploration of LGBTQ Identity and Experiences Among Social Work Faculty. Paper to be presented at Society for Social Work and Research, San Francisco, CA.
Prock, K. A., Berlin, S., Harold, R. D. & Groden, S. A. (2018, November). Achieving Balance: LGBTQIA-identified Social Work Faculty Discuss Risks, Rewards, and Responsibilities. Paper presented at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, Orlando, FL
Harold, R. D., Prock, K. A., & Groden, S. R. (2017, October). Academic and Personal Identity: Connection vs. Separation. Paper presented at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, Dallas, TX.