The Social Work value dignity and worth of a person extends to all individuals.
The responsibility of the social worker is to assist people in their well-being, from their comfort to their happiness. The social work profession, like any other, has values and ethics that guide professional practice. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics essentially mirrors my beliefs in regard to how I treat others, especially those who experience disadvantages in society. For instance, I believe that all individuals are entitled to social justice in terms of having food security. There is always someone out there that needs help and it is my responsibility to reach out to that someone, because every person is important, and no one should be left behind. The social work value dignity and worth of a person extends to all individuals in our lives. This value highlights that all people deserve respect, and this truth is to be put in the forefront of our minds when interacting with them. Regardless of one’s past actions, current beliefs or future intentions, that person is human, and humans should be treated with respect, care and love.
My upper division experience at the College of Social Work here at USC consisted of both expected and unexpected learning outcomes, skills and knowledge. Expectedly, I learned about the social work values in the Code of Ethics, the causes and possible solutions to social problems, and a general overview of what it is that social workers do: advocate for vulnerable people who cannot for themselves. In the classroom is where I learned that the dignity and worth of a person is a social work value. I learned that this includes perpetrators of violence, people who have different morals than me, and people who discriminate against the very people I plan to advocate for. My interactions with my cohort contributed to most of the unexpected learning experiences, which I will discuss later.
One of the most important components of my social work undergraduate learning experience is the idea of diversity and inclusion. I was first exposed to this idea in SOWK 331: Diversity and Social Justice. This class not only taught me the different aspects of what make people diverse but also helped me to understand the ways in which certain groups are discriminated against; it taught me about the basic -isms, including classism, racism, and ageism. Before taking this class, I understood racism to be discrimination based on the belief that one’s own race is superior to that of another’s. This class taught me however, that only people who are privileged based on their race are capable of being racist. Additionally, I was able to learn about discrimination against the LGBTQ population that was previously invisible to me.
In addition to developing an awareness of different types of discrimination, I have heard throughout the social work major that it is important to identify personal biases and move towards not acting upon those biases, if not rid myself of them altogether. I have been assigned to write about my biases before interacting with a population, even if that pertained to just going in to observe. I always had a hard time coming up with what to write for that portion. I had readily accepted the idea presented in the classroom to value the dignity and worth of all people, and truly believed that I did not have any biases. The issue lied in the fact that the biases that I considered were towards a client population. I did not think about the general population of people that I interact with on a day-to-day basis. In my signature assignment for SOWK 411: Generalist Practice III, the requirements were to observe a group. Before the observation, I was to address the biases that I expected myself to have and mention measures that I would take to account for and diminish the impact of these personal biases. I did not do well when I completed this portion of Part 1 of the assignment, but when I completed Part 2, and observed the extent to which my personal biases and values impacted my observation of the group and the methods I used to control them, I was better able to articulate my biases. It was only after experiencing the group observation that I was able to experience and acknowledge that I had biases. Part 2 of this assignment is my within-the-classroom artifact; on pages six and seven, I discuss my personal biases.
After understanding that I indeed have biases, I have taken measures to address them. I have acknowledged that I express biases in many ways and the type and severity of my biases also vary. One of the measures that I have taken to address my biases was with a group that I facilitated at my field placement. Its purpose was to help the students understand the structures that shape their lives and the ensuing “codes of the street” that form. The idea began with the book Codes of the Street by Elijah Anderson and my intention was to have a book club. Then the purpose of the group expanded from understanding the structures and codes, towards having students form a sense of self not restrained by the structures nor defined by the code. Other purposes of the group were to build the students’ understanding of history that led to the emergence of these structures along with their understanding of the importance of and how to combat these structures. As such, the students were able to view themselves as part of a community, and feel a sense of responsibility as representatives of and advocates for that community. The curriculum for this book club is my beyond-the-classroom artifact. This beyond the classroom experience helped to continue the insight that I came to, as well as incorporate it into my practice. This small group also facilitated for my students to respect their own dignity and worth, despite their environments and all the values that they grew up with that make them feel hopeless about their situations.
Once I acknowledged what empathy was, it opened the door for me to be empathetic with anyone that may cross my path, because while I may not know what everyone’s story is, the one thing that I do know is that there is so much I do not know about people’s struggles. Having empathy for those who have a misunderstanding and/or preconceived notions about me, is not always easy. As with anything, an understanding makes it easier to endure. I have learned the concept double consciousness in SOWK 441: Human Behavior in the Social Environment III: Large Systems that helps me to understand people and their perceptions about me. The way that this idea was explained to me was that people in minority groups have the advantage of two ways of thinking about the world and understanding themselves: their own and the dominant knowledge, including biases and stereotypes, of how others view them. Focusing on the latter part of this concept allows for increased empathy in working with the people who are a part of dominant groups in society. This variety allows for a greater capacity to critically think.
At first, it was the reason I distanced myself from people; I understood their perceptions of me to be that of an outsider and not a part of society. I believed that I was an outsider, that the way that others viewed me took precedence in any interaction I had with them. This did not mean that I thought their view of me meant more to me than my own, or that I allowed it to affect the way in which I viewed myself. Rather, I used it as the basis for how the interaction would transpire and unfortunately as justification for why I would not assert myself and instead, depend on them to take the lead in our interactions. I was easily frustrated with people’s ignorance about me and began to form a bias against people who fell into the pattern of treating me differently.
I came to the realization that the dignity and worth of a person extends to individuals who are not vulnerable when my social work classmates became a part of the population of people who held preconceived notions about me. I knew what the social work values were and projected the failure to embody some of these values on my classmates. I earnestly believed that based on the ways that they interacted with me, they were unfit to be social workers. It is true that my classmates are studying to be social workers and should be more understanding than the average person that I cross paths with, but that applies to me as well. I was equally guilty of failing to embody the same values with my views of them. For me, double consciousness is becoming an asset, but this is only after I understood that I need to learn the true ways in which society views me as a minority. (Then there is the intersectionality of my multiple minority statuses, which has exponential effects on how society views me.)
Writing this paper has been an opportunity for me to clearly delineate how all of my experiences worked towards a common goal, starting with the NASW Code of Ethics, which states what I believe to be true regarding the dignity and worth of all people. Then, I was able to accept that I have personal biases and identified them for myself. In eliminating these biases, or at the very least working towards eliminating them, I can be empathetic towards people, which helps with treating them with dignity and worth. Understanding the concept of double-consciousness facilitates the use of empathy. My experience with my social work classmates paired with the NASW Code of Ethics, my increased understanding of discrimination, personal bias, empathy, and double-consciousness all contributed to my arrival of this key insight and my work at CHS allowed me to put into action the idea from this key insight. Regardless of the variance in views and way of life that I may have with colleagues, both now and in the future, I will always have with them the commonality of being human. With any person I interact with, I will have this commonality. I can now have this always at the forefront of my mind and take courses of action that helps those in need with minimal harm to others.