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Social Work Educator as Change Agent

July 27, 2010

Changes and connections are important to West Chester’s Mit Joyner, chair of the University’s social work department, and she will be able to make both as president of the Council on Social Work Education for the next three years. CSWE is the sole U.S. accrediting agency for social work education.

Joyner, who took her CSWE office July 1, says, “I don’t have a ‘status quo’ personality.” She is always looking for the changes and connections that will benefit not only the individual, but society as a whole.

She’s already shaken the status quo at CSWE as the first chair of a baccalaureate program to serve as president.

“It’s a paradigm shift for the membership,” she says. Recent revisions to the organization’s bylaws now include on the board an equal number of representatives from baccalaureate and master’s programs and a representative from the educational organizations. This inclusiveness was begun by CSWE’s immediate past president, she notes. A stronger connection and a shared common agenda among the three main national social work organizations is a goal: CSWE, AASWB (American Association of Social Work Boards) and NASW (National Association of Social Workers) must promote social work education and the social work profession.

“We need to boost our public image to attract more to the field and change the public perception of social work. We have failed to address the marketing,” she believes. “Social work needs a national partner. Look at Johnson & Johnson’s national Campaign for Nursing’s Future.”

Another connection Joyner considers invaluable is social work’s overlap with other professions.

“The rudder in social work is empowering people and communities but also in addressing the nation’s growing disparities by creating linkages between social work and other fields including health, education and the legal systems. Social work is also involved in therapy and counseling but that’s only 15 percent of the time. We must work to get other professions to engage with us to make an impact on the macro level.

“One change may be to invite other professions to our meetings,” Joyner suggests. “We may develop an advisory board with other representatives from various fields and disciplines and discuss innovations and trends in higher education.”

Addressing the needs of returning military veterans is a current issue Joyner is working on with a CSWE committee. She recites the litany of problems vets and their families face: A high number of deployments per individual are resulting in a high suicide rate. A loss of connection during the long time spent away from one’s family can result in family discord, divorce, alcoholism, drug use, flashbacks, PTSD.

“How do we proactively engage Vietnam vets?” asks Joyner, citing one available reciprocating resource.

Joyner reflects that social workers in the civil rights era were change agents across society. Today, many social workers specialize in different causes. Despite wanting to affect the common good, “we focus first on our individual causes rather than on addressing the greater good.”

And that is where social work education can adapt.

“We should treat our field the way the medical field does. At WCU at the baccalaureate level, we teach generalists the values, knowledge and skills they need in order to work in all modalities since you can’t pick your clients. Master’s programs can specialize.” However, Joyner believes, “All MSW students should learn how to access, work with and advocate for the public sector even if they intend to be a therapist in the private sector. Then we’ll come up with better policies.

“I want every social worker to think, ‘How do I help the individual and improve our society?’”

A member of the WCU faculty since 1981, Mit Joyner has chaired the undergraduate social work program for more than 25 years. She co-authored Critical Multicultural Social Work (2008), and is recognized nationally for her leadership, especially in gerontology social work education. Her research interests also include child abuse and diversity issues. The nonprofit national Council on Social Work Education represents more than 3,000 individual members, plus graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. CSWE has accredited 471 baccalaureate and 201 master’s social work programs and is the sole U.S. accrediting agency for social work education.