Social workers work on the frontlines with those who most need social justice in American society. In situations involving the poor, disenfranchised, underserved, and disadvantaged, social justice is not a theory or concept. It directly impacts the quality of their day-to-day lives.
Social workers confront social justice issues head-on. When it comes to their clients, a lack of social justice means an increase in social oppression in all its forms. That includes racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism.
Those who earn a degree in social work and become a community social worker can make a difference in their community. A well-functioning society depends on social justice. Without it, a society becomes inherently unfair and rife with inequality. That not only impacts individual lives but also makes society less stable.
What Is Social Justice?
Because social justice has become a staple of debate in recent years, many may have lost sight of its true meaning. Social justice refers to the concept that equity and justice expanded into every aspect of society and benefit all people, as opposed to benefitting only some of the people.
Additionally, the National Education Association (NEA) writes that “social justice includes a vision of a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable, and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.”
The NEA also looks at the other side of the issue. When social justice is absent, it gives rise to oppression. Within society, certain groups and individuals can form “hierarchies of oppression” in which some oppression is addressed, but other oppression is not addressed. The NEA points out that oppression can take the form of “social or legal exclusion, discrimination, inequitable distribution of resources, and emotional and physical consequences.”
In working with those who live in often oppressed populations, social workers make a significant, positive impact on people’s lives.
How Social Workers Strive for Social Justice
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) makes social justice a central part of the organization’s efforts. The NASW focuses on five areas of social justice: voting rights, criminal justice and juvenile justice, environmental justice, immigration, and economic justice.
Each area includes many initiatives. For example, voting rights work includes an effort to increase the number of people registered to vote and standing up against laws that suppress voting. Immigration work includes a child migrant protection toolkit that provides information on migrant-related legislation, form letters to use when writing lawmakers and research into immigration issues.
The work of NASW offers a look at what a national organization does on behalf of social workers. In their day-to-day work, community social workers help people in settings such as schools, family counseling centers, senior centers, and charity organizations.
The list of job duties is extensive. In general, social workers counsel individuals, families, and groups on getting the right resources to improve their lives. This involves many specific actions, including the following.
- Identifying those in need of help;
- Assessing clients’ needs and their strengths and support networks
- Supporting clients as they work through issues such as illness, divorce or unemployment
- Advocating for better community resources such as childcare and healthcare
- Responding to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
- Developing programs that better serve the needs of clients
How TUW Prepares Social Workers
Touro University Worldwide offers social workers an undergraduate degree program that prepares them to advocate for social justice and help people identify, prevent, and solve problems.
Coursework within the program covers a range of issues social workers face and prepares them to put theory into practice. Some classes focus on social justice and related issues which include the following.
Social Justice and Diversity. Students in this course learn about populations diversified by race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and those that have privilege. Students learn to engage in culturally sensitive social work practice and become an advocate for social justice.
Ethics and Social Policy. Students learn how social policy, ethics, and social work intersect. Students address ethical dilemmas and use their understanding of social welfare theories to evaluate, assess, and advocate for change.
Social Work Practice. These three courses align with the hands on portion of the program under the title of social work practice. Students learn to apply theory into the practice of working with individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations.
Social justice permeates the program, much as it does the overall mission of Touro University Worldwide. The focus on social justice and building a better society particularly resonates with those learning to become social workers.