Dwayne Battle, Associate Professor of Teaching and Director of the Baccalaureate Program, and Marian Diksies ’08, Associate Professor of Teaching and Director of Student Affairs, share how they foster diversity and inclusion at the School of Social Work, while challenging inequalities further beyond.
How do you support diversity and inclusion at the School of Social Work?
DuWayne Battle: For the past 18 years, I’ve been teaching our “Diversity and Oppression” course, which is a requirement for both undergraduate and graduate students. MSW students take this course in their first semester, so they’re given a new framework to understand our curriculum and the world around them. It’s not uncommon for my students to suggest areas that need more focus, and we respond to their requests. We’ve recently put more of a focus on environmental justice in this course. Beyond the classroom, I’ve been a part of the Rutgers–Camden diversity and inclusion hiring committee, and last year, I was given the Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award. It recognizes Rutgers University faculty, staff, students, and community partners’ achievements in their work and commitment to promoting and practicing diversity and inclusion at the University and in partnership with the broadercommunity.
Marian Diksies: I also teach the “Diversity and Oppression” course. It’s gone through many iterations and is continuously changing based on students’ needs and in response to what’s happening in the world around us. In addition, I chair the School’s diversity and inclusion working group. We’re trying to better understand and evaluate students’ experiences with diversity, inclusion, and equity. It’s incredibly important because it allows us to measure our effectiveness in meeting the School’s mission to develop and disseminate knowledge that promotes social and economic justice and strengthens individual, family, and community well-being in our diverse and increasingly global environment. Our work is still under way, and we’re hoping it will help us reframe some of the processes and initiatives going on at the School.
What do students learn in the “Diversity and Oppression” course?
MD: A lot of students say the “Diversity and Oppression” course changes their worldview. Then they say, “Now what?” They desire to understand more and be further involved in conversations on the topic. As a school, we’re trying to ensure we respond in a systematic way.
DB: When students meet people who are different from them, they often interact on a superficial level. They retreat back to their spaces of familiarity. But this course challenges students to value the differences in others, and we use critical thinking and experiential exercises to guide them through this process.
MD: DuWayne always says, “If I’ve left my students feeling uncomfortable, then I’ve done my job. I’ve succeeded in my goal.”
How do you promote diversity and inclusion outside of the School of Social Work?
DB: I’ve worked with NASW-NJ for many years. During my tenure as the first African American president of the organization, I emphasized the importance of diversity in our professional organization. Bill Waldman, fellow School of Social Work faculty and NASW-NJ member, asked me to serve on a diversity and cultural competency committee, and I accepted the opportunity. The committee developed a new leadership certificate program titled “Leading Through a New Lens,” which teaches members how to respond to institutional racism. In short, the goal is to “institutionalize diversity and social justice.” In addition, I’ve traveled to other universities and conferences throughout the country, presenting on disability awareness, access, and advocacy with one of our former students, Dr. Jacqueline “Jackee” Jackson ’05, who was named NASW’s Social Worker of the Year in 2011. We also went to Capitol Hill to advocate for policies and programs aimed to improve the lives of people living with disabilities. I also collaborate with Pastor Vanessa Brown of the Rivers of Living Water Church, a Christ-centered, radically inclusive, open and affirming, non-denominational spiritual family. They are engaged in a lot of programs and services in both New York and New Jersey. I enjoy being involved with this group because I’m the minority, and I get a chance to learn how to be received as a person who is not from their community but walks alongside them.
MD: I’m quite involved in my church’s youth ministry. What’s particularly interesting is it’s a group that’s truly bicultural and bilingual. A lot of the members grew up in Egypt and moved to the United States to attend college or live with their families. I find it gratifying to help them navigate our cultural similarities and differences.
What role does diversity and inclusion play in the field of social work?
MD: I think it’s the core of everything we do. I don’t know how you would try to separate social work from diversity and inclusion. I don’t think it’s possible. Do you think it’s always been that way?
DB: The early history of social work involved charity work and serving immigrant populations. However, diversity has always been a key component of the profession. But social work has evolved over the years. Our code of ethics and cultural competency standards mandate us to make sure we prepare students to be effective in their work with diverse individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. That’s part of the development of the profession. Diversity is at the core of social work, but it’s not just about celebrating diversity. There’s recently been a shift. We have to honor diversity but also challenge disparities. That may be the piece that’s gained greater attention and has grown stronger.
MD: I believe the field will continue to evolve. In addition to celebrating diversity and challenging disparities, we’re also talking a lot more about inclusivity. What does an inclusive environment actually look like? What structural efforts do we need to make to recognize and appreciate difference but also provide a space for it to thrive? We provide students opportunities to have these conversations inside the classroom and beyond through events and programming.
What can Rutgers School of Social Work students — and social workers in general — do to further conversations about diversity and inclusion?
MD: People have to be willing to take risks and speak up. It’s something I struggle with at times. We get so comfortable with how things are, and we’re afraid to be disruptive. Whether it’s your status at an agency or your relationship with an individual, it’s all about having a voice. Feeling empowered to speak up will eventually bring recognition to an issue. But we have to be consistent. We might speak up during an isolated incident but ignore the next instance that happens afterwards. We have to stick with it.
DB: I’ve worked with groups that have a strong commitment to diversity in which we literally sit around a table and ask the questions, “Who’s not here? Who’s not represented at this table?” We need to make an effort to be as inclusive as possible. But it’s not just enough to have people in positions. People have to be valued and empowered.
How do you feel about the future at the School of Social Work?
DB: I’m hopeful for our School. There’s great potential here. I’m amazed by the rich diversity our students bring. We have an opportunity to really show how the work of diversity and inclusion can be done in a way that’s useful and beneficial to all.