Social workers play a vital role in helping service users navigate structural barriers and oppressions. Anti-racist social work education trains future social workers to apply critical thinking to the ways in which societal practices of racist exclusion and domination threaten the integrity of racialized individuals and communities. However, inclusion of anti-racist curricula in Schools of Social Work (SSWs) is largely dependent on each individual institution and their course offerings. This study explored the extent to which anti-racist practice is included across social work programs in Quebec through conducting a review of required undergraduate courses. Our results reveal that, among the nine universities that offer Bachelor of Social Work programs across Quebec, only one SSW offered a course that explicitly addressed race. Five out of the nine SSWs include a mandatory course with implicit mention of race under broader terms such as “anti-oppression,” “inequality,” or “intercultural practice.” These findings raise important considerations for social work education in Quebec and the development of anti-racist practitioners across the profession.
- social work,
- social work education,
- anti-racist practice,
- systemic racism,
Les travailleurs.euses sociaux.ales jouent un rôle essentiel en aidant les personnes utilisatrices de services à surmonter les barrières et oppressions structurelles. L’enseignement antiraciste en travail social permet de développer chez les futurs travailleurs.euses sociaux.ales une réflexion critique sur les façons dont les pratiques d’exclusion sociale et de domination menacent l’intégrité des personnes et des communautés racisées. Cependant, l’inclusion de cursus antiracistes dans les écoles de travail social dépend largement de chaque institution et de leur offre de cours. Cette étude a permis d’explorer la mesure à laquelle la pratique antiraciste est incluse dans les différents programmes de travail social au Québec en effectuant un recensement des cours obligatoires de premier cycle. Nos résultats révèlent que, parmi les neuf universités québécoises offrant un programme de baccalauréat en travail social, un seul programme offre un cours traitant explicitement la notion de race. Cinq des neuf programmes incluent un cours obligatoire avec une mention implicite de la notion de race, sous des appellations plus larges telles que « anti-oppression », « inégalité » ou « pratique interculturelle ». Ces résultats soulèvent des enjeux importants pour la formation en travail social au Québec et le développement des compétences professionnelles en matière de lutte contre le racisme.
- travail social,
- formation en travail social,
- pratique antiraciste,
- racisme systémique,
Corps de l’article
Over the past few decades, an educational shift from anti-racist to anti-oppressive practice (AOP) has been observed within the social work field. To avoid supposedly creating a hierarchy of oppressions, anti-racist practice was subsumed under the umbrella of AOP. This was further propelled by the rise and particular use of intersectionality within the profession, refuting the idea of race as the “privileged” oppression. AOP classes teach students to be critical of power relations in their practice, and as such, they employ client-centred practices and encourage critical reflection of personal social locations and privileges (Dominelli, 2002; Sakamoto & Pitner, 2005). These courses are often taught through the lens of Whiteness, catering to the exploration of White identity at the expense of learning for other racial groups. As a result, those from minority racial groups find themselves in contrast to Whiteness, silenced and oppressed (Hanna et al., 2021). While AOP can be beneficial to some degree, it is not a replacement for or congruent with teaching anti-racist practice. Furthermore, there are concerns that AOP has endorsed a more palatable approach to racism through its inclusion of other oppressions and its failure to prioritize race (Razack & Jeffery, 2002). While it is necessary and valuable to analyze various oppressions in general, it is critical to have a separate analysis of race and racism due to how deeply embedded they are in our society.
In Quebec, Canada’s only Francophone-majority province, the minority identity of White Francophone Quebeckers of French-Canadian origin permeates discourses of diversity and ethnic relations in the province (Potvin, 2010). Over the past few years, the current Quebec government has continued to deny the existence of systemic racism. And yet, the largest city in Quebec, Montreal, recently completed a city-wide consultation on racism and has incorporated into its charter of rights and responsibilities a commitment to address systemic racism (Office de consultation publique de Montréal, 2020). Indeed, Francophone, Anglophone, and Allophone racialized community–led social movements, primarily situated in Montreal, as well as Indigenous Peoples across Quebec, have historically named and continue to name racism and confront systemic racism and colonial violence (Mugabo, 2019; Palacios et al., 2013; Stiegelbauer, 1996). With high tensions related to politics, culture, and racism through overt expression of anti-immigrant sentiment and a particular form of Catho-secularism (Stonebanks, 2019), racialized members of Quebec society are faced with a very real and persistent denial of their existence and experiences (Mahrouse, 2010; Office de consultation publique de Montréal, 2020). Accompanying this denial is a perceived lack of acknowledgement and commitment from the provincial government in acting against racism—not only toward the barriers it creates, but how it is perpetuated within various policies and ensuing actions. Within this context, it must be asked: what role does social work play in all of this? Given that social workers work within the systems at play, and service users—many of whom are racialized—navigate these same systems, how well-equipped are social workers to provide appropriate services and support to racialized service users?
Of the nine Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs offered in Quebec, eight of them are offered in Francophone universities. Language of the institution plays a significant role in what is taught to students, as the ability to teach anti-racist practice is dependent on the availability of content in both languages. With most of the anti-racist scholarship having emerged from the United States, transfer of knowledge to the Quebec context can be difficult because of language, but also because of concerns surrounding its applicability. If anti-racist education is not being addressed explicitly, what is being taught in its place? How does a province in which the ruling provincial governing party persistently denies systemic racism address issues of race to ensure that social workers are equipped with the skills necessary to provide culturally safe practice? This paper begins to answer these questions by conducting a review of required undergraduate courses offered in Schools of Social Work (SSWs) in Quebec.
Racism, Quebec, and the Social Work Profession
Racism in Quebec has not been at the forefront of public debate until recently. Definitions of what constitutes racism and how it is manifested within society have been contested. While there is acknowledgement of individual acts of racism, there has been reluctance on the part of the current political leadership to claim that Quebec’s systems are racist. The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (2019) defines systemic racism as:
Comme la somme d’effets d’exclusion disproportionnés qui résultent de l’effet conjugué d’attitudes empreintes de préjugés et de stéréotypes, souvent inconscients, et de politiques et pratiques généralement adoptées sans tenir compte de caractéristiques des membres de groupes visés par l’interdiction de la discrimination.p. 6
This definition suggests that systemic racism is manifested consciously or unconsciously and can be unintentionally perpetuated through policy and practice.
Compared to the rest of Canada, racialized immigrants in Quebec face greater difficulties in employment access and equity, including nonrecognition of professional and educational credentials and, consequently, the highest unemployment rate gap between immigrants and locals in Canada (Eid, 2012). These systemic barriers persist despite the fact that, on average, the majority of immigrants arrive with higher educational levels than local Quebeckers (Posca, 2016). Even amongst local Quebeckers, however, racialized peoples face more discrimination in hiring, as studies have shown that, in Quebec, the name appearing on a resume has a significant impact on the likelihood of obtaining a job (Mansour & Posca, 2021). Those with names of African, Arabic, or Latin American origin face differential and discriminatory treatment, even if their qualifications are the same as White applicants for the same position (Eid, 2012). Black and Indigenous children are overrepresented in Quebec’s child protection system and face disparate outcomes throughout their service trajectory when compared to other children (Boatswain-Kyte et al., 2020; Breton et al., 2012; Lavergne et al., 2009). In 2019 and 2021, police departments in Montreal and Repentigny (respectively) released reports indicating that Black, Indigenous, and Arab people are up to 11 times more likely than White people to be stopped by police (Armony et al., 2019). These disparate outcomes in education, employment, child welfare, and justice are few of the many areas in which racialized members of Quebec society experience systemic racism.
Anti-racist social work offers opportunities for bridging the gap between our societies currently and the goal of what they should be: non-racist (Dominelli, 2017). The focus of anti-racist social work remains on the institutional and structural nature of racism and how it is further perpetuated in our institutions, practice contexts, and classrooms (McLaughlin, 2005). Anti-racist social work is politically informed and seeks to actively identify and resist racism (Ahmed, 1993; Dominelli, 2017; Keating, 2000). Principles of anti-racism recognize that, while race is not a biological construct, an invisible privilege has been afforded to Whiteness and that exertions of this create violent conditions in which people of colour must racially survive. Anti-racist social work education seeks to achieve the following (Dominelli, 2017):
empowerment in identifying and naming racism;
awareness of racial inequalities and the processes associated with racial oppression, marginalization, and exclusion;
transformation of social relations; and,
exploration of the social constructions of race and the normativity associated with Whiteness.
Anti-racist social work therefore aims to eradicate social relations and dynamics from both the profession and society.
Social Work Education in Quebec
Social work education in Quebec is not homogenous. Across the province you will find variations based on region and schools of thought. Some of the programs are generalist, whereas others are known for approaches that are community-based or policy-driven. When AOP gained popularity within SSWs in greater Canada, the lack of Francophone scholarship that explicitly named AOP meant that its application could not be readily transferred to Francophone university contexts (Lee et al., 2017). A number of critical approaches underpin AOP, and so while this perspective was not historically, explicitly, or directly taught within the Francophone context, many of its theoretical underpinnings were, such as structural and feminist social work (Lee et al., 2017). The Francophone literature also highlights the use of an intercultural approach, which explores the role of culture within social work practice (Rachédi & Taïbi, 2019). More recently, AOP has become more explicit within Francophone social work (Lee et al., 2017; Pullen-Sansfaçon, 2013) and intercultural approach now includes concepts such as systemic racism, intersectionality, declonization and engaging in anti-racism (Rachédi & Taïbi, 2019).
However, whereas underpinnings of AOP could find an echo in the content being taught within a Francophone context, and are now being increasingly and explicitly mobilized in French, can the same be said for anti-racist education and practice? In a province where government leaders refuse to recognize systemic racism, how and to what extent are issues of racism and anti-racism being addressed in social work practice within Quebec?
This paper reports the findings of a descriptive review of course offerings required for fulfilment of a BSW across all universities in the province of Quebec. The review was conducted from June to August 2020 using course descriptions available on the website of each respective university. Both Francophone and Anglophone universities were reviewed, and only course descriptions of core required courses were included in the analysis.
The Canadian Association for Social Work Education–Association Canadienne pour la formation en travail social’s (CASWE-ACFTS) website was consulted to obtain a list of SSWs in the province of Quebec. CASWE-ACFTS lists the following nine Quebec universities that offer BSW programs: McGill University, Université de Montréal (UdeM), Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS), Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC), Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR), Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT), Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO), and Université Laval (UL). From these nine universities, a total of 192 required BSW course titles and course descriptions were reviewed. Each school’s website was consulted to acquire a list of required courses and their descriptions.
Course titles and descriptions were read and coded for reference to (1) race or (2) anti-racist social work practice. Anti-racist practice was defined as an approach that aimed to expose the ways in which racism is embedded within relations, institutions, systems, and structures moving beyond developing awareness to promoting action. Course titles and descriptions were analyzed in their original language. A two-step coding process was used to identify basic codes, followed by a more in-depth interpretive coding based on two preliminary themes (Hay, 2000).
The number of required course offerings varied by university, with some SSWs requiring up to 36 courses and others as few as 15 courses. This difference was attributed to some SSWs offering courses for 1 or 2 credits (instead of 3 credits). The average number of required course selections across all SSWs was 21, with all programs requiring 90 credits for fulfilment of a BSW. In Quebec, graduates of CEGEPs are granted 30 credits, which can be applied to the 120 credits required for a bachelor’s degree. Two categories of anti-racist social work practice courses emerged from the data: those that addressed anti-racism implicitly versus explicitly (see Table 1).
Implicit Anti-Racist Social Work Courses
Of the 192 courses reviewed, a total of seven addressed anti-racism implicitly. Implicit anti-racist social work courses had “inequality,” “interculture,” or “oppression” in their title. Course descriptions often referred to “insertion,” “integration,” and “adaptation,” and were intervention-focused. They made mention of developing “des habiletés professionnelles,” reflecting on myths and stereotypes, and developing awareness of diversity and its impacts in the helping relationship. None of the course descriptions included the word “racism,” and only two mentioned “discrimination.” In both cases, the course descriptions indicated that students would examine discrimination without stating if they would address it. Many course descriptions used terminology that sought to “sensibiliser” around the social reality of different “community cultures,” “immigrants,” “refugees,” and “ethnic minorities” under the objectives of insertion, integration, and adaptation. Four out of the six course descriptions made specific mention of Indigenous Peoples, but without alluding to “racism” or “anti-racist practice.” Course descriptions for each of these courses are listed under Table 2.
Explicit Anti-Racist Social Work Practice
Only one course description explicitly named “race,” “racism,” and “racialization,” indicating that these concepts would be utilized in understanding and thinking about difference. This course also indicated that various models and approaches to intervention with immigrants, refugees, and Indigenous Peoples would occur.
Discussion and Implications
The results of this review reveal an alarming near-absence of anti-racist education within SSWs in Quebec. Course offerings in Quebec, as indicated by their online course descriptions, appear rooted in ethnocentrism that centres the experience of the dominant group through awareness- building of the social reality of the Other (i.e., immigrants, cultural minorities, refugees, and Indigenous Peoples). Only one course made explicit mention of race and racism in its course description, while the remaining courses focused on inequalities and variations of cultural competency or diversity management. Four out of the six courses spoke to intercultural practice, a broad umbrella that, while containing tenets of anti-racism, does not make it the main focus. Our concerns with including anti-racist practice under the umbrella of intercultural practice is similar to that of AOP: this form of practice is rendered ineffective because of its equalizing of oppression; it unintentionally ignores the significance of systemic racism. Furthermore, adopting an intercultural approach with objectives of insertion, adaptation, and integration does not give significant consideration for the role of racism and oppression that is embedded within our institutions, and the violence that this enacts on racialized communities.
While awareness of inequality and the processes associated with oppression, marginalization, and exclusion are important, anti-racist social work requires that practitioners are empowered to both identify and name when racism is at play. Anti-racist practice seeks to move from a place where racism and racial oppression have been rendered invisible, and are therefore maintained, to a more critical awareness where it is no longer hidden under a culture of professional denial. In classes in which the majority of students are White, conversations about race and racism will often centre Whiteness—allowing for the dominant group to account and determine the validity of racism, excluding and silencing voices by those most concerned by it. Anti-racist practice must explore social constructions of race, but also the role of Whiteness and White supremacy—concepts that are lacking under an intercultural framework. Exploration of these constructs is necessary in understanding Whiteness and how it maintains supremacy through the oppression of all others as a means of keeping the status quo (Hanna et al., 2021). Failing to do so allows for Whiteness to endure as a prominent feature of cross-cultural communication (Lee & Bhuyan, 2013). This also demonstrates a lack of acknowledgement of the prevalence and impacts of systemic racism on both racialized service users and providers. Not only does this contribute to the perpetuation of harmful practices toward racialized individuals and communities, but it also reinforces White supremacy and the profession’s complacency in preserving systemic racism and the status quo.
Although it may be possible that individual instructors may integrate anti-racism into their course outlines, curriculum, and pedagogy, there is a lack of the explicit naming of anti- racism in course descriptions; the authors argue that its absence allows for the systematic evacuation of anti-racist education (to be explored further in the section on limitations).
Social Work Education and Practice in Quebec
Both Quebec’s reality of systemic racism and its government’s denial of it hold implications for social workers, as practitioners must work within this context. Due to a lack of anti-racist education included in Quebec’s BSW curricula, social work students graduate and enter professional practice lacking a thorough and critical understanding of systemic racism and how racialized peoples navigate the systems at play. There is a need, therefore, to re-examine and restructure the ways in which social workers are trained and how analysis of social issues is approached. As the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work (1991, as cited in Razack & Jeffery, 2002) explains:
We are being called upon to question traditional assumptions and theories, re-examine admissions criteria and teaching modes, broaden our world view, and act deliberately to respond to the realities of diversity. At the same time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reaffirm, in new ways, the very tenets that underlie our profession.p. 257
This highlights the importance of re-evaluating and reforming traditional social work theories and practices, particularly in light of the fact that most of social work’s history and foundation is embedded in Eurocentric and colonial values and norms. Indeed, the latest CASWE-ACFTS Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards (2021) include as a core learning objective a section on anti-racism to “recognize how social work practitioners and the profession have been complicit in historical and current expressions of racial violence and injustice and challenge this involvement” (p. 16).
In the context of Quebec in particular, in which the ruling provincial governing party blatantly denies the existence of systemic racism, for SSWs to remain behind in implementing anti-racist curricula is yet another way of upholding the status quo, enabling the denial of systemic racism, and evading accountability in social work’s complicity in systemic racism. The absence of Quebec SSWs in changing pedagogical frameworks and embracing curricula rooted in critical race theory (CRT) and anti-racist education is unsurprising considering the White and colonial roots of the profession and, as remains to this day, its predominantly White administration and faculties. This results in SSWs that remain fixated on addressing matters of racism as gently as possible and catering to White fragility, with a reluctance to name and examine Whiteness as a construct. However, without critiquing Whiteness and without understanding its centrality, the question of racism remains “shallow and unlimited” (Roediger, 1994, as cited in Razack & Jeffery, 2002, p. 265). Furthermore, SSWs in Quebec are composed of primarily White faculty and administration who do little to deviate from a system entrenched in White liberalism and colonial and Eurocentric values. “Whiteness and white subjects remain at the center of social work education and practice” (Badwell, 2014, p. 2), showcasing social work’s lack of commitment to growth and reform, and to racialized peoples.
Current Initiatives to Address Anti-Racist Education in a Quebec Context
More recently, there have been student-led initiatives within Quebec SSWs that are pushing social work educational programs to more explicitly and systematically integrate race, racism, and anti-racism. As an initiative led by Black students and instructors, as well as mostly racialized faculty, the Comité antiraciste et inclusif de l’École de travail social at the UdeM aims to create supportive spaces for racialized students, as well as contribute to pedagogical and curricular development that explicitly addresses systemic racism, anti-Black racism, and other forms of racism (CAÉTSUM, 2021). The Comité des échanges interculturels et internationaux at the SSW at UQAM has also developed explicitly anti-racist initiatives (CEII, 2021). Building on the previous formation of the Racialized Student Network (RSN) at the SSW at McGill University, racialized students and faculty have more recently initiated the Race Caucus in which students and faculty can build community and solidarity (McGill School of Social Work Race Caucus, 2020). While all of these initiatives are encouraging, they also raise important questions regarding who should be doing this work and how is it recognized without being instrumentalized. Nevertheless, because of these student-led initiatives, anti-racist education in Quebec is beginning to be addressed.
Due to the broad nature of social work, there were limitations in coding the coursework. Most social issues cannot be viewed from a black-or-white lens, and therefore, when being sorted into different categories, often fall into multiple. However, because the BSW required courses were sorted primarily by the class title and brief description, our process did not allow for considerations of intersections of other social issues, nor was there access to detailed course content to further analyze themes. For example, most BSW programs featured a course focused on mental health and its related issues. From an anti-racist perspective, although a mental health course is not a race-based course, mental health cannot be examined as a social issue without considering the adverse mental health repercussions systemic racism has for racialized peoples. Our analysis would not account for such approaches, which may or may not be evident in the SSWs of Quebec.
Although some universities had optional or complementary courses that dealt with issues of immigration, newcomer communities, or cultural sensitivity, given they were not required, they were omitted from our review. Certainly, it is likely that, although outside the scope of this article, a detailed examination of complementary course descriptions and outlines could reveal more engagement with anti-racism. However, if this is the case, it would also suggest that issues of racism and anti-racism remain marginal and not crucial enough to explicitly be put into required courses.
It may also be argued that the “implicit reference to anti-racism” category could be applied to all social work courses. While individual instructors may choose to incorporate this into any course, for the purpose of this review, we’ve chosen to only consider the implicit category for courses in which there was mention of race, culture, ethnicity, oppression, or immigration. Failure to mention these constructs in course titles or descriptions allows for the content to be addressed at the discretion of the individual instructor and is not a guarantee that the content will be covered. Furthermore, a lack of racialized faculty can also have a significant impact on the inclusion or exclusion of anti-racist content implemented into courses.
As previously mentioned, course descriptions alone were examined, rather than entire course outlines. The authors recognize that this serves as a limitation, as course outlines and the readings included can provide further insight into course content and the extent of anti-racist education incorporated. Course descriptions are static and set the tone for what content is expected to be included in any single iteration course; however, as professors change, so too do course outlines, content, and foci. Course descriptions are published publicly, and if the course description does not explicitly mention anti-racist social work, it is not a guarantee that it will be covered. Furthermore, touching upon anti-racist content for one week out of an entire semester does not produce a course based on anti-racist education. Therefore, a course description that builds the course on a foundation of anti-racist education is not comparable to a professor choosing to include some anti-racist literature at their own discretion.
The term “racialized” condenses a lot of diversity and intricacies into one word; therefore, it should be acknowledged that speaking in these generalizations can, at times, be a limitation in and of itself. Racialized peoples cannot and should not be assumed to be a homogenous group. Precise language should thus be used whenever possible. The authors attempt this precision when specifying racial issues that disproportionally affect certain racialized communities in Quebec more than others; however, at times, speaking in more broadly is inevitable.
Finally, this article’s focus on race, racism, and anti-racism did not include how these concepts are addressed with respect to Indigenous Peoples. Anti-racist social work education should not claim to address the ways in which colonial violence impacts Indigenous Peoples, nor should it obscure the varied anti-colonial and decolonial frameworks currently used in social work. Although systemic racism and colonialism operate together, they are not synonymous. Instead, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and decolonial education should be viewed as distinct, but also overlapping and complementary.
It is critical now, more than ever, that social work moves beyond a mission of cure and control and toward one of transformation and resistance. To adopt anti-racist education into all aspects and levels of social work practice and education is to truly embody social work values. Social work as a profession is committed to upholding service in the interests of others and promoting social development and environmental management in the interests of all people (Canadian Association of Social Workers [CASW], 2005). Therefore, social work values—such as pursuit of social justice, advocating for accessible and equitable social services and resources, and challenging injustices and inequalities (CASW, 2005)—cannot truly be embodied in practice without a professional foundation built upon anti-racist education. By incorporating CRT and anti-racist education at the centre of social work curricula, and using it as a foundation for social analysis and development of professional skills, social work institutions can begin to disengage from White-dominant Eurocentric biases and values. As social service providers, it is critical that social workers are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to embody culturally safe and ethical professional practice. Social work that is void of these values is nothing more than a White supremacist practice masquerading as a savior system.
Kiran Shah is a Master of Social Work graduate of the School of Social Work at McGill University. Alicia Boatswain-Kyte is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University. Edward Ou Jin Lee is an associate professor in the École de travail social at the Université de Montréal.
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