MSW Program Themes

Four themes have been developed to assist in unifying the curriculum. These themes are based on the unique setting and context for MSW practice in the Wichita area. The four themes are cultural competency, social justice, empowerment, and multi-dimensional practice.

Cultural Competency

Data concerning population trends in Wichita of Sedgwick County and its surrounding counties support an advanced generalist curriculum that prepares social workers to provide culturally competent services and develop and evaluate programs that are inclusive and which seek to remove cultural barriers to service delivery. A curriculum that incorporates cultural competency will not only provide students with basic knowledge on different racial and ethnic groups, but will develop students' ability to think critically about diversity in social work assessment and practice.

Cultural competency includes the acquisition of the awareness, knowledge, sensitivity, and practice skills necessary to effectively understand and address the cultural/racial/ethnic world-views, strengths, issues, and needs of minority populations. The ultimate goal in the development of cultural competency is to actively utilize the appropriate practice methods that foster the outcome of greater development of cultural/racial ethnic identity and cultural/racial/ethnic empowerment.

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Social Justice

Within the Wichita Metropolitan area, ethnic and racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the young, are the most vulnerable to experiencing difficulties arising out of economic and social change. To be just means to treat all people fairly. In its most basic meaning, pursuing social justice means to advocate for equal rights, opportunities, protection and treatment for all people. Additionally, social workers who pursue social justice can identify unfair laws and policies that affect their clients, and work to have these laws and policies changed. In order to be meaningful, social justice must apply to a wide range of social and economic circumstances, since legal justice has little meaning if not supported by more substantive forms of equality.

The MSW program focuses on social justice as one of its four themes. Students learn that social justice is a part of every social work interaction. As part of this emphasis, the curriculum seeks to develop skills in both community development and in effecting social change through the political process.

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As in many urban environments, there is an unequal distribution of goods and services within the Wichita community, and discrimination and oppression may contribute to these inequalities.

Empowerment is defined as the process and goal of increasing personal, interpersonal, and political power so that people can take action to improve their life situations (Gutierrez, DeLois, & GlenMaye, 1995). As a curriculum theme, empowerment is linked to four basic processes:

  1. Analysis of the social arrangements/institutional structures which create and sustain power inequalities which lead to relative advantage and disadvantage for certain groups in our society.
  2. Understanding of the dynamics of oppression and discrimination which woro disempower people by limiting choices and confining people to low status and devalued social positions.
  3. Increasing personal and group power through building on individual and group strengths and facilitating efficacy-enhancing skills, knowledge, and experiences.
  4. Utilizing empowerment-oriented techniques and values in practice, including a participatory/collaborative worker/client relationship with shared power, active involvement of clients in the change process, raising awareness of structural inequalities and their relation to individual problems, advocacy and mobilization of resources, and a professional commitment to efforts to create a more just and equitable society.

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Multi-dimensional Practice

Social service delivery systems in the Wichita Metropolitan area are a complex web of public, non-profit, and for-profit agencies. Agency structure, which includes its purpose, scope, size, and type of clients served, is constantly changing. Further, with the onset of privatization in the state, agency boundaries are not always clear. Social workers are serving on teams in which both public and private agencies are represented (Lewandowski & GlenMaye, in press). Most agency funding comes from a variety of private and public sources. Over the past ten years, local agencies have experienced changes in the type and scope of services provided and in the clients they served. These agencies are undergoing changes due to external and internal factors and these changes have contributed to the increasing complexity of agency services and clients served.

The multi-dimensional framework draws upon chaos and complexity theory to develop a practice model that more accurately reflects the dynamic complexity of social work practice.

The multi-dimensional perspective suggests that change and human interactions both occur and affect several levels and dimensions simultaneously. Within an individual, the dimensions consist of the multiple levels of development, including biological, social, psychological, and spiritual development. As individuals interact with their environment, multiple dimensions include the variety of levels of social organization, such as family, groups, and organizations. Rather than being either/or and linear, a multi-dimensional perspective suggests a both/and, nonlinear approach to understanding human interactions (Lewandowski, GlenMaye, & Bolin, 2001).

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