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Last week Nicole Peters started a petition on change.org to discuss the appropriateness of paying for parking at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) for Secwempec students.
The fourth-year TRU social work student was inspired by the October 2019 announcement of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) to grant free tuition to local Indigenous students and decided to choose a social action research route for the final social policy assignment. At UNBC members of the Lheidli T’enneh Nation can now earn an undergraduate degree at no cost. It’s a common misconception that all Indigenous students in Canada get free tuition (CBC, 2019). The Northern Promise Partnership was described as “a meaningful response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to make education more accessible for Indigenous people” (Nielsen, 2019, para 2). UNBC’s Prince George campus is Lheidli T’enneh territory.
Instead of focusing on the free tuition, Peters in the petition asked TRU to stop charging Secwepemc students parking fees. The campuses of Thompson Rivers University are located on the traditional and unceded territory of the Secwepemc Nation within Secwepemcul’ecw. By eliminating parking fees for Indigenous students, TRU can strengthen its efforts to indigenize its campuses and promote reconciliation.
The petition in one week received more than 400 signatures and gathered media attention that resulted in both Kamloops Matters and Kamloops BC Now writing articles about the petition. Unfortunately, the media coverage also resulted in many inappropriate comments that the online community expressed towards the petition. Nicole shared with Doug Herbert from CBC Daybreak Kamloops: “[People are] posting comments that are just blatantly racist. Some of the things that are being said [are] awful. Christopher Foulds wrote an op-ed in Kamloops This Week and wondered why “people who would otherwise not even think of uttering such offensive garbage face to face find the courage behind the social media screen to vomit forth the most vile filth imaginable”?(Foulds, 2019)
It is incredibly disappointing to read comments that show disrespect, lack of awareness, and inability to engage in meaningful conversation. It is critically important that those who post online will not hide against their screens and use inappropriate language to allow meaningful dialogue to occur. Online commentators should engage in open dialogue, ask questions, stay curious and learn about challenges that Indigenous People face in Canada instead of posting hurtful comments. When I connected with Nicole we discussed some ways to move forward, and we need your help:
- Please share/sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/thompson-rivers-university-stop-charging-secwepemc-students-parking-at-thompson-rivers-university-80b6116b-7ec6-47c9-923f-1e0968cb5788
- Please help Nicole to find an organization (e.g.TRUSU Equity Committee) that can take this petition to the next level. It is incredibly overwhelming and discouraging when voicing concerns to receive disrespectful responses.
Please feel free to add other ways to promote respectful dialogue that values diverse opinions and allow the exchange of ideas using social action writing tools (petitions, op-eds, letters to the editors). Students should feel safe to express their views in public and not being silenced when they raise points that they are passionate about researching. Having diverse voices helps to create adequate, accessible, affordable, acceptable social policy in Canada for groups who historically have been excluded from the decision-making process.
Last academic year I had an honour to work with Rayell Sellars-Sarnowski on SOCW 4900 Directed Studies Course: Developing Professional Self-Identity in Social Work. TRU School of Social Work and Human Service provides a unique opportunity to students to select a topic and design the course that can strengthen their research and expand their knowledge (the course should cover topics that require in-depth exploration of the issue outside of regular courses). We work with Rayell on creating course learning objectives and selecting readings that can enhance the development of professional self-identity. Rayell participated in all aspects of course design and contributed many ideas that I incorporated in the final version of the course outline.
The course critically examined the role and the contributing elements of professional social work identity development process. The course aligned with the core learning objective for social work students to develop professional identities as practitioners as outlined by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education: Standards for Accreditation. This objective also involves social work students developing the ability for self-reflection to develop an awareness for safety in practice. Due to the sensitive nature of exploring individual identity, self-care and support systems were established before an in-depth exploration of the following. Foundations such as intersectionality, and pedagogical influence were explored to deconstruct identity. Especially for populations that face discrimination, historical and contemporary, context were applied to conceptualize the influence on identity. By conceptualizing these aspects students had the opportunity to form their own professional identity separate from dominant discourse. Many frameworks that capture various facets of identity were introduced to aid in students establishing identity. This process allowed to deconstruct the pedagogies taught within education institutions and discern how they impact self and beliefs.
Rayell met all the key learning objectives and at the conclusion of the course, were able to:
- Understand professional social work identity components and implications to practice.
- Develop identity and find relevant supports to develop identity.
- Understand how pedagogy and power influences professional identity development processes for social workers.
- Ensure safety in the process of establishing identity.
- Achieve a well-grounded professional self-identity that positively strives to maintain the Canadian Association of Social Work Education: Standards for Accreditation learning objectives.
I have asked Rayell to share the experience of taking the course to encourage other students to take directed studies courses and receive one on one mentoring and preparation to advance their studies and promote social work research. Thank you Rayell for all your work and for being part of this directed studies experience.
Reflection on Directed Study – Developing professional self-identity in social work By Rayell Sellars-Sarnowski
Participating in a directed study gave me the opportunity to develop a framework that would enable me to unearth identity’s role in social work. The basis of the course topic prompted by various antecedents I was experience within the program. These antecedents were related to the intertwining cultural complexities that form my intersectionality. I identify as a Secwepemc-Tsilqhotin woman, who was raised on traditional Secwepemc ne Esk’etemculucw territory.
Being raised on the reserve Esk’et, I was gifted with a very unique perspective of the world. I was blessed to grow up with knowledge of my culture, healing practices, and language. I was custom adopted as a child by my grandmother and provided with a safe, nurturing home. I also have a very large family, and was wrapped by supports and the community. I was provided with a very wide support circle from a young age, and given the tools and caring to strengthen my own resilience. I was very sheltered from the outside world, being surrounded by other Indigenous people until I was 11 years old. When I was 11, I transferred from Sxoxomic school in Esk’et to a catholic private school in Williams lake. Transitioning from a predominantly relevant culture to another was a culture shock, and since then I have been fascinated by the differences in discourse. Later in my teen years, I faced traumas that were detrimental to my holistic wellbeing. I became isolated and turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms. However, despite the hardships my family, community and friends came together to support my holistic wellbeing. Again, strengthening the resilience that I had been fostering since I was a young child.
This journey prompted my interest in the helping profession, as I understand it has with many others. I entered the human services diploma, successfully completing this, then moved on to the bachelor of social work. Within the BSW I noticed that I was questioning my reality, my perspective on life, and generally gaining a new one or trying to. As many of the course work involved questioning dominant discourse, I became more interested in societies perspectives and how they were created. Myself and another student started to focus on how social work discourses impacted our positioning as Indigenous students. Stemming from this, I began to question how is the program supporting students to shape their identity after losing it? It is heavily acknowledged that you will learn “more about yourselves than you want to know,” and that dominant discourse needs to be untangled to understand how it affects our clients. However, I felt that the program lacked supports for students having identity crisis. Especially to support those like myself, with complicated intersectionality’s. Acknowledging my own identity disconnection, and others, I began the process of enrolling in a directed study.
The process itself of entering into a directed study was not as daunting as it may appear. I hope that in the future there is more information on directed studies, I just heard about it from another student doing it and decided to try to supplement those identity development needs. If I hadn’t put myself out there by participating in extracurricular BSW club events, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity. Upon discovering this, I was instantly intrigued and decided I was going to do it. Research and confronting gaps within structures is where I thrive. The directed study was an opportunity to utilize and grow those skills. I was pushed to do in-depth research at the library and start discussions with other students and faculty. The process allowed me to approach the topic of identity development utilizing a flexible approach. I wasn’t only able to take the appropriate amount of time to analyze my identities, I was also able to apply appropriate lenses to my work.
I was constantly applying Indigenous approaches in my other class papers, but in smaller scales. In this course I was able to view the entire picture of my Indigenous identity and the various ways it would impact my wellness. Not only was I able to more thoroughly utilize and Indigenous approach, but I was able to apply theories and concepts I truly associated with, such as strengths perspective, a structural approach, trauma-informed practice, decolonizing theory, and systems theory. I was able to weave these together, among many other concepts, to fully understand my approach to social work. By creating my own course outline, I was able to choose what mattered to me as a unique individual to be included in the content. Not only was this project about simply identifying how to manage identity development, it grounded my own knowledge and unique perspective of the world, to allow for my practice to become even more effective.
This was truly an opportunity not only for professional identity growth, but for personal identity growth as well. I believe truly digging into our unique world perspectives is a benefit to our practice as social workers who continue to have the need to understand the complexities of the unique individuals we serve every day. Not only do we have the duty to our clients, we have it to ourselves to truly grant ourselves with holistic wellbeing. It is a beautiful moment when you begin to understand your identity. I think in social work we become obsessed with the idea of controlling who we are as professionals, we lose touch with our true self, who has such a love for being in the helping profession. When we lose touch with our individuality we succumb to robotic helping, and lose meaningful connection to those we serve. These are the types of realizations and connection to practice that can be created in a directed study. How passionately I feel about a connection to identity, is only an example of what type of work can be done in this opportunity. If this sparks an idea about what you would study, I highly suggest exploring it in this manner.
“As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself everyday.” ― Agatha Christie
The Mitacs Globalink Research Internship is a competitive initiative for international undergraduates from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Mexico, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and Ukraine. From May to October of each year, top-ranked applicants participate in a 12-week research internship under the supervision of Canadian university faculty members in a variety of academic disciplines. More information about Mitca Globalink Research Internship can be found here: https://www.mitacs.ca/en/programs/globalink/globalink-research-internship
Recently I got very exciting news, that all 11 projects I have submitted for funding has been supported by Mitacs Canada so I can train 11 students, 1 from each of the participating country to help me with my research in summer 2020.
If you know a third year undergraduate social work student from the following countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Mexico, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and Ukraine who will be interested to visit TRU from May-August 2020 for a 12 week all-expense paid internship ask them to apply before September 18th and select one of the projects that I supervise from the list on Mitacs Canada Globallink website. https://globalink.mitacs.ca/#/student/application/projects
Next summer can be busy but it is very exciting as I can get more help to complete some of my research work. Please share this message with your networks and it will be fun to have social work students from around the world to visit Kamloops in May-August 2020 so we can do research together at Thompson Rivers University and strengthen global social work community.
Here is the list of project to apply before September 18th deadline: