Social work

School of Social Work offers free online course to understand structural racism | UB today

Social workers often find themselves on the front lines of the ongoing fight against racism in this country. Their clients’ lives are often shaped by institutional and structural oppression that can affect their finances, health and future, and many social workers are trying to better understand how and why this is happening and what they can do about it. topic.

A new free online course from the BU School of Social Work aims to fill the void digitally.

“We live in a world where there is systemic oppression, and unless you were raised in a bubble, you are affected by it,” says Dawn Belkin Martinez, associate clinical professor in the School of Social Work and Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion.

“Understanding how this system works is very liberating for people, because you are able to think about how to change that,” she says. “The whole third part of the module is about activism.”

Belkin Martinez is the driving force behind Understanding Structural and Institutional Racism, a new, free, self-paced, non-credit online course intended to give social workers and other health and social service providers a grounding in the basics of these fundamental factors in the lives of many customers.

Belkin Martinez says the free online course will help social workers and students better understand the forces that shape the lives of their clients.

SSW has a required 10-week course called The Dynamics of Racial Justice and Cultural Oppression, but students can take it whenever they want, even in the final semester. “And when they took it, they were like, ‘Oh my God, why didn’t we know that sooner,'” Belkin Martinez says.

She also heard comments from students doing required fieldwork who ran into the practical consequences of systemic racism, but lacked the theoretical framework to make sense of it. They wanted to have access to this information immediately.

” We do not have want to creating this thing was a lot of work, but we looked around and couldn’t find anything free to borrow,” she says.

More than 1,150 people have signed up for the course since it first became available in January 2022, but the school does not track how many people complete it. The module is now available through Blackboard and the Network for Professional Education, and thanks to the latter, it has started to attract learners from all over the world.

The course is divided into three sections, each taking approximately one hour to complete. The first introduces basic concepts like political economy and racial capitalism that set the stage for the rest of the program. The second part takes a deeper look at white supremacy and its influence on American society. The third section examines anti-racist activism in the United States and the role that social workers can play.

Alongside Belkin Martinez to create the course, two PhD candidates, Greer Hamilton (SSW’24) and Noor Toraif (CAS’16, SSW’23), who came to SSW with different academic directions, but with one intention similar.

Toraif earned a BA in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Philosophy from the College of Arts & Science and an MA in Child Studies and Human Development from Tufts University before returning to Charles River Campus to pursue her Ph.D.

“I came back to BU for the social work program because I kind of moved from neuroscience to developmental neuroscience to think about the systems that influence children’s lives and the social and political context,” Toraif says, adding that SSW is a good place to research this.

“Dawn is amazing. It always pushes the boundaries of these conversations about structural and institutional racism,” Toraif says. “A lot of institutions are talking about interpersonal racism and prejudice and prejudice. really matter, the institutional, the structural, how it’s kind of embedded in our social, political, and economic systems. And Dawn is always trying to push that conversation.

“She mentioned [this course] last summer and asked me if I would be interested. And I was like, yeah, absolutely.


Understanding how this system works is very liberating for people because you are able to think about how to change that.

Dawn Belkin Martinez

Greer earned her bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Services: Community Mental Health and a master’s degree in social work from SUNY Buffalo before coming to SSW for her doctorate.

“I’m really interested in thinking about how racism affects people’s health and sense of belonging and how it’s been integrated into the way we build cities,” Greer says. “What we do know is that affordable housing for low-income people and people of color has typically been built near busy roads, and therefore has poor air quality. There are many other places where luxury accommodations have been built, aren’t there?

“I also do drug policy research,” she says. “And we know that in Massachusetts, for example, black and Hispanic communities have historically not been able to access the same kinds of addiction treatment and that’s literally because of where the clinics have been placed, where the hospitals were placed. Racism has determined where these things are, has an effect on how communities can access them.

“I don’t know if the profession still does a very good job of naming the systems of oppression and naming our roles specifically like this profession in addressing that. And so I think the mod is our attempt to do that,” Greer says.

According to Belkin Martinez, Toraif and Greer, the course provides an overview of the subject in a digestible way, so that students and others who study it can put some of the relevant ideas into practice.

“While this module does not give the final say on these difficult and challenging questions,” the course website states, “we hope it will broaden our knowledge base, introduce new concepts and approaches, and help us work together to build a better, more anti-racist world.

Explore related topics: