Diversity & Cultural Competence

Cultural competence can best be understood as a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that enable a system, agency, or professional to function effectively across cultural difference (Cross, 1988). In this context, cultural difference (also called diversity) includes, but is not limited to, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and socio-economic class. As Cross (1989) notes, "systems, agencies, or professionals do not start out being culturally competent. Like other types of competence, cultural competence is developed over time through training, experience, guidance, and self-evaluation.

The Diversity & Social Justice Committee guides the implementation of our plan for increasing the cultural competence of the School of Social Work, including recruitment and retention of faculty and students who will contribute to the diversity of the School. In 1996 the School implemented an organization-wide intervention that dramatically increased its capacity to develop the knowledge, skills and experiences required for culturally competent practice. Outcomes of the initiative included monthly faculty diversity training, increased opportunities for students for practicum with diverse populations, and substantial curriculum revision to more adequately prepare students for practice with diverse populations. In addition, partnerships were developed with a wide range of individuals and organizations throughout Iowa and other states in the Midwest, as well as partnerships in Mexico, India, San Bernardino and Philadelphia. These partnerships have increased our cultural competence as a School and enriched our educational programs so that our students will be better prepared to work in a diverse world. The Diversity & Social Justice Committee appoints Diversity Support & Resource Coordinators each year to provide supportive listening and information for students who may feel marginalized for any reason. 

In 2014 the social work faculty approved mandatory training for all incoming graduate students in all centers utilizing the model NCBI Leadership for Equity and Inclusion. This one day workshop provides a foundation for talking about racism, all forms of oppression and coalition building across differences. In 2015, the training was extended to all incoming BA Social Work students.

As a result of these efforts, the School was honored with the UI Catalyst Award (that recognizes the outstanding work of individuals and departments engaged in strengthening diversity within the UI community.) The School's faculty and staff are grateful for the support received from within the University and for the opportunities to collaborate with individuals and organizations around the State and in other countries. These efforts are part of the profession of social work's broader mission to promote social justice. Two staff members and a faculty member have also been recognized with Catalyst Awards; Kate Kemp, Motier Haskins and Jefri Palermo.

The immersion learning programs at the School of Social Work are designed to complement classroom didactic learning by putting students into intensive learning experiences where they encounter people who live in dramatically different environments, who come from very different cultures, and in some cases, who speak a different language. Applying social work knowledge, skills, and values in these intensive immersion experiences can produce rapid learning. The immersion learning experiences enrich the education of students and faculty, help them to become more culturally competent, and prepare students for practice in a diverse, multicultural, and global world. The School has sponsored trips to India, Mexico, El Salvador, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia, and the Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino, California. For the past several years, a group of BA students has spent spring break in Portland, Oregon studying homelessness. Watch a short video of the 2015 trip to India by going here.

The University of Iowa School of Social Work in conjunction with the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice has sponsored the Iowa Latino Conference since 1998. The goal of the conference is to create an event every year that will serve all segments of the Latino community throughout the state of Iowa. This includes individuals, families, nascent groups, and established organizations. A very important part of this mission is placing the yearly creation of the conference in the hands of the community. The University of Iowa School of Social Work, the Raíces Project, and other organizations serve as partners in this process but community members are in charge of and responsible for the conference. This method is used to engender important skills and provide opportunities within Iowa's Latino community. At the 2010 conference, the organizing committee was recognized by the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs by winning the Mary Campos Award. This award honors groups for their long-term commitment to improve the quality of life for Latinos in Iowa.

The Certificate in Critical Cultural Competence, a university wide certificate program, was developed by the School, is housed in Social Work and directed by our faculty. Since its inception in 2010, the enrollment has doubled each year and is now at capacity.

The Aging & Longevity Studies Program is also based in Social Work and is directed by social work faculty Mercedes Bern-Klug.

The majority of our faculty and staff have attended university LGBTQ Safe Zone training and are designated as allies. We are committed to providing a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students.

The National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) is a nonprofit leadership training organization based in Washington, D.C. Since 1984, NCBI has been working to eliminate prejudice and intergroup conflict in communities throughout the world. Today, NCBI is an international organization whose workshops and principles are being used on hundreds of campuses, K-12 schools, corporations, law enforcement programs, communities, domestic and international political organizations, and even in peace negotiations. In 2013, Iowa City MSW students participated in an all day NCBI training on Leadership for Equity and Inclusion. In 2014, the workshop was offered to MSW students in Des Moines and Sioux City as well, and faculty voted to include the training into orientation for all incoming BA Social Work and MSW students in 2015. The training provides a common foundation, language and skill building for ending oppression in all forms. Thus far,7 school staff and faculty are trained as facilitators.

The School of Social Work Diversity & Social Justice Committee Statement on the Atrocity in Charleston, South Carolina

The School of Social Work Diversity & Social Justice Committee Statement of Support for Missouri

The School of Social Work's Statement on the Separation of Children from their Families at the US/Mexico Border